Parenting with Empathy

I have the great privilege to coach for the Calm and Connected Parenting Program through a company called MAZLO

The premise of the two week program is to help parents become more connected to their children through short, daily exercises and personalized coaching support.  The tool we focus on is empathy.

There are lots of tools shared with parents that fall back on this idea of empathy – and I believe that this is the best way to really see the world through our child’s eyes, and to let them know that we get them... 

In Positive Discipline we talk about tools like Validating Feelings and Connect Before Correct.  Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bronson, in their book, No Drama Discipline talk about Name it to Tame It and Connect then Redirect, sharing that “being attentive to the emotional experience behind a behavior is just as important as the behavior itself.”

What is the big deal about empathy?  What I am finding, as I work with parents, is that empathy is more than just the words we use, empathy is truly a way of being, and when we can show up truly being empathetic the results are amazing.  And it takes practice.

What does empathy feel like?

Empathy feels like a calm body, an open heart…  To get here, try straightening your spine and pulling your shoulders back and down.  Allow your chest to open up and take some slow, deep breaths into your body.  And you breathe in, simple imagine your body filling with love and peace, as you breathe out, allow tension and judgment to melt away.

What does empathy look like?

Empathy is a soft face, perhaps a small, understanding smile…  Empathy looks like a parent who gets on their child’s level and perhaps gently places a hand on their shoulder.  Empathy looks like presence, mind and body.

What does empathy sound like?

This is where the words come in!  Empathy sounds like a parent who is curious about their child’s experience, who notices there are some strong emotions that are happening.  Empathy sounds like acceptance and non-judgment. 

When you find yourself struggling with a child, be it a toddler or a teen, empathy can help you broaden your lens, increase your perspective of the situation.  Empathy allows you to open the doorway to connection and deeper relationship.

The language of empathy could be:

It sounds like you are feeling…..
I’m wondering if you feel….
You are really having some big emotions….
I’m curious about how you’re feeling right now….
It’s hard to feel…
It's painful to feel…
It’s ok to feel….

And my favorite way to follow up and keep the conversation going is by adding:
Can you tell me more about that?

The power of empathy is two fold.  On one hand it allows our children to “feel felt” and with that they often are able to begin to take the steps needed to begin to find their way back to calm.  On the other hand, it allows us, parents, to see out of our child’s eyes.  When we see the world from their perspective, we are much more likely to stay in a helpful, connected, solution focused mindset.

So, begin your empathy practice my friends.  Take time to bring empathy alive in your body and see what that invites from the people around you.