The power of empathy
I often share with parents how important it is to offer empathy to our children.
Empathy can be more important than solutions, instructions and especially corrections.
I love you, I relate to you and I accept you
Empathy is letting your children know that you understand their feelings.
It is letting them know that you have felt something similar in the past
and therefore can relate in some way to what they’re going through.
Empathy also sends the message that what they are feeling is natural, acceptable and appropriate.
It is so important for kids to know that their feelings are natural, acceptable and appropriate.
Are all feelings appropriate?
I know that this may cause some disagreement
because it is a common thing to think that not all feelings are appropriate.
The fact is, we feel what we feel.
If we repress or deny those feelings they do not disappear.
They just get buried inside and can affect us for years and years.
It’s important to face our feelings
Therefore if we are going to work with our feelings,
if we want to alter them,
or if we want to change how we express them
then we must be able to face them in their fullness.
Empathy is the doorway to change
Offering empathy to our children doesn’t give the message
that they do not need to change or evolve.
Acceptance doesn’t mean stagnation.
When we offer empathy we actually open the door
to the possibility of change.
Especially with young people who are so vulnerable,
if they feel listened to,
heard and accepted
they are much more willing to learn and grow.
This is because they feel safe.
Many times when I speak about empathy the two objections I hear are:
“My children don’t want my empathy.”
“I tried empathy but it didn’t work.”
A long term strategy
It we are trying to use empathy to reach a kid who is angry, sad, belligerent or apathetic it will not be a quick fix.
It requires consistency and effort.
When child has been hurt in some way
or has put up an armor around their heart for some reason,
it will not be easy to pierce their shield
and touch their spirits.
They are testing your love, not your limits
When you offer empathy
and it is rejected by your child
they are testing your love.
They honestly do not know this is what they are doing,
but they intuitively need to know that
your empathy and your love
cannot be shaken
regardless of how they behave.
Our Kids Push Our Buttons
If you have been a parent for more than 5 minutes
then you know very well that
your kids are experts at pushing your buttons!
The moment you offer them empathy they will likely refuse it
in such a way as to push your buttons,
activate your triggers and get you to react.
The moment you do all trace of the empathy is gone.
This means that they likely only had a 2 minute window
of empathy available to them
and then they were able to burst it like a bubble.
In order for us to get through to them
the empathy must continue regardless of how they react.
In fact it must continue past the point
that they think is reasonable and even possible.
This is why it is called sustained empathy.
If you are able to stand in this space of
acceptance, relating and loving
no matter how much effort your children put into
pushing you away,
eventually their hearts will open to you.
The battle of love
It may be that this will be a new way of interacting with them.
Or perhaps you already practice some empathy, but now you are ready to take it to the next level.
If this is so be ready for a bit of a battle.
They will fight you and resist you at first,
but once they see that suddenly mom and dad
are not backing away from this new openness,
they will let you in past the shield they have put up.
Get your foot in the door then you can do the work
Once you are in then you can do the work
of healing, connecting and supporting them
that they so desperately want and need.
Do they really want my support?
You may be tempted to ask
“If they want and need it why do they push it away?”
The fact is even though they want and need your love and support,
they will not drop their armor to let it in
unless they feel safe.
They have built this armor out of a need for safety
and only a greater safety can break it down.
Your Love must be stronger than their defenses
So the challenge here is to have your love, your empathy and your acceptance
be stronger than the resistance
your child has built over their heart.
If they feel that their armor is safer than you
they will not let you in.
Working from the inside out
This requires deep inner work on your part of course.
The benefit of doing this work is
that you yourself will become more loving, stronger
and more powerful than you were before.
Sustained empathy has transformational magic in it
and I invite you to work with it in your family and see what unfolds.