Empathy First

Maya Angelou said “When you are gone, people wont remember what you said, nor what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.”

When we empathize with people, validate their feelings, listen to their stories, care to ask how they are really doing, make time for them we make them feel good. We meet their need to feel important, significant, that they matter, that they are worth it.

One of my sons, when 13-16 yrs old, used to often stick his head into my room after school to rattle off stories of how (in his eyes) he was treated unfairly by teach. As he showed his face, I would immediately put down my book and give him my full attention. All I used to respond with was, “hmmm, wow, sounds like that must have been annoying for you” or “ Yes, I think I would feel frustrated too if that was me”.  He would actually tell me later in the day that he felt much better and had clearly let the incident go.

We are emotional beings….energy in motion. We are meant to express ourselves, not suppress emotions. We create havoc with ourselves and others when we discourage or disapprove of others expressing their feelings. Suppressed and repressed emotions literally clog up our thought processes.  I know people whose memory, focus, rational thought and comprehension have been severely compromised by them not seeking proper counseling after trauma.

We must provide a safe space for our children to express their feelings. We can teach them an appropriate way to express negative emotions such as fear, shame, pain and anger which by the way is very linked to fear.

We create a safe space for others to share by primarily being good listeners. Secondly by NOT looking to preach or criticize or offer advice after others have opened up to share their stories, pains, hurts and disappointments or mistakes.

Just listening with empathy builds trust and they are likely to return to tell us more.

Why would our children or anyone for that matter be inclined to open up to share themselves with us if they won’t receive validation but receive criticism or advice on how to get over it. Will we be surprised therefore when they seek it from people who are not a good influence on them?

What does empathic language look like?

Here are scenarios and examples of Empathic Responses (ER)

When Tina (10 yrs) forgot an important book needed for homework at school.

My ER was: “ Oh my, that must be annoying for you. What are you going to do?”

When Tim (2-5 yrs) was pelting toys or slapping others.

My ER was: “It looks like you are frustrated, what can I help you with, come lets get a drink of water, or lets go outside for a walk”. I removed him from whatever frustrated him. He was too young to explain what he was feeling and why, but I helped him name a probable emotion, understood his feeling and sought to sooth or comfort him by taking him for a drink or walk.

Stay tuned for ideas ofways to allow children to express their emotions.



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