How (& Why) To Have Empathy For Your Children And Teens
“What lingers from a parent’s individual past, unresolved or incomplete, often becomes part of his or her irrational parenting.” – Virginia Satir
Sometimes you will have a reason to be angry, disappointed, and even shocked by the circumstances your child has found him or herself in, but it’s crucial to acknowledge that you were once there too. Empathy requires parents to love with both their heads and their hearts. It shows a willingness to look beyond our own hurt and anger and to move into our ability to care about the other person’s pain. No, this doesn’t come naturally; it requires a concentrated effort on our part to understand how our child might be feeling – especially in light of the fact that we ourselves were children and teenagers. This is a time we need to set aside our own personal feelings and consider what we can do to move the situation forward.
Imagine if Jesus, when He was on earth, had no empathy for the ways we are tempted to sin. We need to remember that Jesus came to earth in human form precisely so that He could be tempted and experience true empathy for us through what we face. In response to every testing Christ faced in Matthew 4:1-11, He struck back with the Word of God and overcame the temptation, giving us an example of the exact solution we need. The same formula will work for us –and we can teach this by example to our kids. For every temptation, reckless behavior, and adverse situation we face, we can turn to God’s Word for an answer!
Here are some steps toward empathy:
- Set aside your own feelings, thoughts, and emotions for the moment.
- Envision yourself in the situation and think about how you would feel if this circumstance were happening to you.
- Communicate your understanding to your child or teen, using statements that express how you think you might feel in his or her situation.
- Listen as your child or teen responds to your explanation, and responds with their own feelings.
Empathy – envisioning yourself in another person’s situation – can be challenging, but you’ll also find yourself gaining more appreciation for what that person is going through. This is such an important connection for your kids to feel with you. If we don’t learn the art of empathy, we will never get past ourselves in order to help ourselves and others navigate through difficult situations. Empathy is a major way we can step outside of ourselves and into the lives of our children, enabling us to parent them effectively. Without empathy, we won’t see beyond our own reflection in the mirror and will consequently end up hurting not only ourselves, but also our family.
– Excerpt from Parenting with Grace and Truth by Dan Seaborn