I really believe in the importance of showing empathy towards children by trying to understand what they are going through. And even though I realise how important being empathic is, often, I am having my own little emotional reaction to the situation, so it’s really hard to respond with empathy at those times.
But trying to be really present to what is going on for your child can be invaluable for them, and can help them feel supported and heard. And, it will do wonders for your relationship and connection with your child.
But what exactly is empathy? Empathy is being able to connect in that moment and really understand and feel their struggle. It isn’t the same as sympathy, which is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is more about letting our children know that we are concerned and that we get it… that’s the point of connection.
- To be empathic we need to be able to take the child’s perspective, putting our own feelings and reactions aside and trying to see the situation through their eyes.
- To be empathic we need to put aside our own judgement of the situation and not jump to conclusions based on our own ‘stuff’.
- To be empathic we need to be able to understand our child’s feelings, by tapping into our own experience and finding a time and place where we may have felt the same way. Remembering though, that, your child’s experience is his or her own, and different to yours.
To be empathic we need to be able to communicate that we understand without trying to fix the problem. Being reflective with comments such as “I am hearing that you…”, rather than with ‘fix it’ phrases such as ‘What you need to do is…”.
And this validation is so important for children to feel understood, and lets them know that they are entitled to feel the way that they do. It also encourages them to really feel what they are feeling and to know that there isn’t a ‘wrong’ feeling. We can’t help how we feel about a situation and neither can our children.
Studies have shown that children who have more empathic parents tend to be less aggressive, experience less depression, develop greater emotional intelligence and in turn tend to be more empathic themselves.