One day this week when we had Little Miss here (respite foster care) she was playing outside and something happened and she hurt her finger. Only minor – so minor I couldn’t see what she had done – but she came running to me, asking me to kiss it better. I on a whim gobbled it up (as in, pretended to eat it) instead. She was a little outraged – “don’t eat it! kiss it!” So I kissed it, and she went back to play outside a happy little chickiddy.
This made me think. Of course the scenario is repeated many many times with each of my own kids over the years. This is what little kids do – they come running to mum to kiss away any pain – big or small. It was her outrage – don’t eat it! – that made me think though.
What is it that they are asking for when they come running to mum asking to kiss it better? They aren’t just asking for attention (if they were the gobble would have done it for her) – they are asking for empathy.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Usually people talk about the benefits of being an empathetic parent in terms of being a role model to our kids, so that they can show empathy to others. But sometimes we have to step back from the role of being a parent – and just be a person – picking up the responsibilities and right responses towards all we meet – including our children.
We need to show empathy to our children – not just to teach them – but because trying to be aware of and understand our children’s emotions is the loving thing to do.
To show empathy to anyone we need to stop what we are doing and focus on the other person – we need to listen and hear what they are saying, what they are really saying – we need to show compassion towards their need, not solutions towards their problem.
We need to pause and kiss the boo-boo. Not because it makes anything better, not physically – but emotionally the hurt is recognised and cared for. This is important in any relationship – including the relationship I have with my children, young and older.
The reason I gobbled that little finger was because I wanted to inject some humour into the situation and divert a meltdown. Besides, the finger wasn’t really that hurt! Reflecting on my response – it was so selfish, focused on what I wanted to move on with, not focusing on the other person. Sure the other person’s response was unreasonable and out of proportion, but she needs to know I’m here for her – big and small. Empathy today will reassure her of empathy tomorrow.
Empathy isn’t just for the times they feel pain – but whenever they have an emotion; highs and lows. Can I be excited for my children, can I be anxious with them, can I enjoy the surprise beside them?
The challenge is to put aside my emotions about the situation and focus on them. If I always bring my logic, my experience, my perspective and over-ride their’s I may consider myself to be practical, but I’m not showing empathy. There will probably be time for practicality later – initially though empathy, understanding, compassion is what is needed. Am I prepared to slow down and show them my love – or does it always have to be about moving on with solutions.
Though the situation that prompted my thinking has to do with a toddler/pre-schooler the same challenge is there for my teenager/young adult children. Can I slowdown from all that is on my to-do list and enter their world for just a moment – just because I care? Can I show them empathy, enter their emotions, and accept their ups and downs regardless of my opinion? I hope so.
The flip side is that even though it may not be my motivation if my children receive empathy from me, they are learning how to show empathy to others. But not everything in my life needs to be about them learning a lesson – sometimes I just need to be a caring human!
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