My kids used to say to me, “You always make it about you.” That confused me. I mean, it would take me ten pages to list everything I was doing for them. Let’s face it, it’s only about them, right? Well, sort of.
Parents ask me all the time, “Why would I empathize if a child is screaming, telling us we are awful, refusing to put on their shoes, or not doing homework? If I agree that school work is no fun, aren’t I saying it’s okay to not do it? Or if I say it’s okay for them to be mad, aren’t I excusing their behavior?”
Slowly, I began to get it. My kids weren’t suggesting that I didn’t do a lot for them. Rather, they meant that in times of stress or upset, I’d focus on my story. I’d blame them for my feelings or my decisions—all of which are, in fact, my responsibility.
If, in their view, I am making it about me, I can’t simultaneously be engaged in their story. And nobody likes feeling ignored.
Make a Moment
Focusing on how our children’s behavior makes us feel (can you see how that’s "our" story?) puts us at the center of the story.
“Of course I’m sad and mad—why would you treat your sister like that?!”
“Wait until you have children; you’ll see why it’s impossible for me to control my temper and not be mean when your kids don’t listen!”
“I wouldn’t be so fed up if you would just do what I ask!”
Empathy involves climbing into their story; this lets us get a glimpse of their unique feelings and challenges because we are seeing life from their perspective.
“The rule is hands to ourselves in the car. Are you having difficulty with that?” (noticing without judgment)
“Can we start again? It’s important to me that you feel comfortable expressing what’s on your mind.” (using connection to make a request)
“It’s probably hard to stay focused. What do you think would help make it feel more manageable?” (validating and problem solving)
Why it Works
Life for children is bumpy and challenging. They don’t have our years of experience. Approaching a challenging moment from their perspective informs us of what they want—and, far more importantly, need—to move through the situation. Still doubting me? Research shows that being non-judgemental, rather than hijacking the moment with our own point of view, can turn into a moment of connection that actually enhances how children feel (more connected), act (better behavior), react (fewer meltdowns), and think (more cooperation).
In a moment of exasperation, it’s easy to forget that we are here to prepare our children to survive the big, bad world. But upset children hand us important, teachable moments to gain emotional intelligence in an age-appropriate way. And that emotional intelligence—being aware of, controlling, and expressing emotions—is key to building strong interpersonal relationships, communication skills, and even professional success.
Value your child’s viewpoint. Empowering your child as the hero of their own story in challenging moments fosters self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
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