Most parents have experienced a time when their child refuses to listen to them. This often happens when there is an emotional barrier in a parent-child relationship. Often, as parents, we reach the point where we are frustrated and are at a loss of what to do. Sometimes we try to take control of the situation by being over-demanding. Other times we forget to show unconditional love. It is in these moments where we push our children away and destroy bonds of respect. It’s in these moments that we must instead push our frustrations aside and learn to be empathetic.
Parenting expert John Gottman says that “Empathy not only matters, it is the foundation of effective parenting.” Another parenting expert, Alfie Kohn, says “Warm, caring, empathetic adults do several things at once. They provide the child with a benevolent, safe place in which to act.” As we can see, empathy can play a huge role in whether or not we parent to the best of our abilities and have strong emotional relationships with our children.
Family experts Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline focus on using love as well as logic to apply empathy. They say that “Empathy leads to the social skills and personal relationships which make our lives rich and beautiful, and it is something we can help our children learn.” The following three tips will help when trying to master the art of empathy.
1. Put yourself in your child's shoes
It is important to see the situation from the child’s point of view. Far too often we, as parents, forget that our children have feelings (and strong ones at that.) We are not always in the right, so it’s paramount that we take a step back and see situations from other perspectives.
2. Listen to and validate your child's feelings
At this point the goal is not to fix the problem, but to listen to the problem. It’s often a good idea to sit at the child’s level and repeat back what you hear and see. Ernest Hemingway said, “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” This quote should be applied to parenting because listening to a child completely can break down emotional barriers.
Let the child know that his emotions are acceptable and that it’s OK to feel the way that he does. Avoid telling your child how he should feel, and let him explain how he does feel instead. If we acknowledge our children’s emotions we become their allies instead of their enemies. They can then freely express themselves, barrier free.
Being a parent isn't easy and having an empathetic and emotional relationship is even harder. With practice and dedication we can become respectful, validating, listeners with powerful parent-child relationships. Although it may seem difficult at first, applying these tips can help break down emotional barriers so that our children learn to love and respect us. We in turn, learn to do the same.