When Your Child Is In Distress, Empathy Is Your Greatest Tool

Yelling and Crying – a Normal Day in the Park

I was walking through the park this afternoon and a father and his 3 year old son passed by me.
The father was yelling at his kid and the boy was crying and crying.

I listened in to see what was going on.
The father was yelling at the kid
“You shouldn’t have wandered away! I didn’t know where you were and I almost left without you. Don’t ever do that again. I almost walked the other way and left you behind.”
It went on like that for a little while.

Obviously Both Of Them Were Upset.

The father was upset because he was concerned about his kid.
Obviously he was very worried about
almost losing awareness of where his boy was.

The kid was upset because he was being yelled at
when he was already most likely afraid and shaken up.

The Emotions Cloud Communication

Of course I do not blame the father for being upset at losing track of his son.
The problem is that the message he was trying to deliver to his son,
that the son needs to be more careful and aware of staying with his father,
was simply not getting through in that moment.

In fact it seems clear to me that in that the father was more focused on
expressing his own emotions, his own frustration and fear,
rather than taking care of his kids emotions.

When this happens it is next to impossible for us to
effectively communicate to our kids
what it is that we want them to understand.

Parents Have The Higher Emotional Responsibility

As the more mature and emotionally experienced human in this relationship
it is the parents responsibility to take ownership over their feelings
and be the guide and support for their child as they go through a difficult moments.

Anytime a kid is upset they are certainly not going to be able
to effectively listen to what you have to say to them.
In fact in general most people are unable to listen deeply
or process information well when they are extremely upset.

This is human nature.
It is the way of emotions work.

If we want to get an important message across to our kids
we have to understands how emotions and the mind work.

Empathy And Support Were Needed Before All Else

This young boy needed a hug more than anything at that moment.
He needed to know that his father loved him and accepted him just as he was.
He wanted to hear that his dad was extremely glad he was safe.
He needed to feel that he could rely on the strong emotional foundation of his father.
And he also needed a model of emotional maturity.

In being yelled at and told off he received none of that.
Instead he was made to feel bad and his distress was amplified.
This caused the words his father was saying
to just bounce off his head and
nothing was getting in except pain and stress.

Effective Communication Requires A Calm State Of Mind

If instead he had received love, compassion and understanding
he would have been able to calm down, trust and open his mind and heart.

If the father really wants the kid to hear and understand him
he needs to create a situation in which his child is open and receptive.
This can only occur in an atmosphere of love and support.

It would have been much more effective for him to stop everything and hug his child, let him know he was glad he was safe and that he understands that he may have got distracted by something and wandered off and that it’s okay. Let him know he is not bad for what he did.

He also would have done well to have taken some responsibility for not keeping track of his child. Saying something like “I’m sorry that I let you out of my sight. I should have been more careful also.”

This makes kids feel like we are also human and makes us more relatable.

Explain The Lesson Once You Both Chill Out

Then when things are calm and the stress has dissipated, the father could have explained that because he loves him so much he never wants anything bad to happen to him. He wants to make sure that he is always safe so that he can be happy and play. He wants him to know that enjoying each other’s company is the most important thing in the world to him. This would make a kid feel so attended to and loved.

Explaining that when they are in the park, in order to be safe
they have to do their best to always keep each other in sight.

This is a lesson that could be repeated a number of times,
in a loving and happy atmosphere over the course of a few weeks
or even months to make sure that it is well impressed.

Bonding And Communication Are More Powerful Than Fear And Pain

Granted this is a longer and more effortful process than
yelling at the kids and hoping to scare them and traumatize them enough
that they will never run off in the park again,
but it really isn’t a very pleasant experience!

It is also a less effective way to communicate
because the child is not actually learning something,
they are just being programmed through negative reinforcement
which means fear and pain!

Connect, Love and Understand

When Your Child Is In Distress, Empathy Is Your Greatest Tool.
Connect with them, love them and let them know
they are understood and supported.
Then when calmer and more open moment comes around
you can share with them the lesson you want to impart
and they will be much more receptive to it.

Our Own Inner Work Is Necessary

Of course the other difficult part of this approach is that
it requires us to have a certain level of emotional control.
We must be able to act in a calm and supportive way
even when our own emotions are affecting us.

This doesn’t mean that we ignore or repress our own emotions,
it just means that we do not project them onto our children
because that does no one any good.

When Your Child Is In Distress, Empathy Is Your Greatest Tool

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