How empathy transforms your child’s well-being

28 May 2018

How empathy transforms your child’s well-being

  • Anxiety
by Dr Jodi Richardson

When I called my mum in tears the other day about an overwhelming disappointment she said exactly what I needed to hear; “that really stinks.”

With those three words I felt her empathy.

When our own kids cry and share their upsets and disappointments it can tear at our heartstrings. Sometimes we just want to cry with them.

There are also those times when our kids get upset and it wears on our patience. It’s easy to react with “well, I’ve told you before…’ or “how many times …?” or “if only…”

Don’t let frustration get the better of you

It’s completely normal for us as parents to feel frustrated, even if our kids are upset, and wonder when the lessons will be learned. And it’s completely fair to have those conversations….again. But before we do that, there’s a handful of words that we need to share. A handful of words that, when shared with sincerity, can have the most powerful impact on the emotional health and happiness of our kids over their lifetime.

The words? They’re the ones that deliver a message of warmth and empathy. Empathy can change the nature of our family relationships, boost our kids’ mental health, develop their emotional intelligence and promote warmer healthier, and even less violent, relationships for our kids as young adults. Kids with more empathetic parents are less aggressive, experience less depression, develop greater emotional intelligence (a predictor of success) and grow up to be more empathetic themselves.

Empathy is defined as experiencing emotions of concern at the suffering of others and adopting the perspective of another. It’s different to sympathy which is feeling sorry for someone. It’s about demonstrating our concern and letting our kids know we get it. That we feel it too.

We can show empathy by saying things like:

“I get it.”

“I hear you.”

“Ahh, I can see that you’re feeling…..”

“That stinks.”

“I understand.”

For great impact use the right emotional response

Pairing your words with a matched emotional response, love, comfort, warmth and a willingness to sit with them as they express their emotions shows our kids we get it and validates for them that they have every right to feel the way they do. After all, there’s no such thing as wrong feelings. We can’t help how we feel about the things that happen to us, neither can our kids. We don’t need to agree with how they feel, nor do we have to view their reaction as a reasonable response to what’s happened. It’s all about showing our kids that their message has been received, and that they have a soft place to land. The conversations can come later.

Validation is an important step in our response to our kids when they’re upset, distressed or anxious. Click here to learn more about our online course Parenting Anxious Kids.

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Dr Jodi Richardson

Dr Jodi Richardson is a mental health and wellbeing educator and author. She has developed her expertise over two decades of professional work in teaching, wellbeing, clinical practice and elite sport, including working for Beyond Blue on the national schools-based initiative for the prevention of depression. Dr Jodi completed a PhD in Physiology, a Bachelor of Applied Science with Honours, and a Bachelor of Education. She is co-author of the highly acclaimed book Anxious Kids.