The Importance of Empathizing with Children

September 16th, 2013 by Dionna | 1 Comment
Posted in Consensual Living, Eclectic Learning, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

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The Importance of Empathizing with Children

An Exercise in Empathy

Let’s try a couple of exercises. Ready?

  1. Grab a mirror, a piece of paper, and a pen. Using your non-dominant hand (the hand that you usually do not write with), make a five item “to do” list. Here’s the catch: you are not allowed to look at your hand or the paper while writing – you may only look at the mirror.
  2. Try doing the same thing, but have someone standing over you telling you what you’re doing wrong. Or how to do it correctly. Or telling you that you only have five minutes to complete the task. Or demanding that you not be frustrated at your inability to complete the task.
  3. No really – do it! Even if you just try to write with your non-dominant hand, you should be feeling a little frustrated, yes?

    Children Need Our Time and Patience When They Are Learning New Skills

    Now, imagine this scene: your child is trying to master a new task. Her face is scrunched up in concentration, her fingers are fumbling to get it right, she tries again and again.

    This goes on for days. Maybe she is trying to dress herself. Tie her own shoes. Hit a ball thrown to her.

    child concentrating

    With each new attempt that does not produce the results she wants, the frustration grows. Often, she dissolves into tears or tantrums, literally collapsing with heavy feelings of defeat and frustration.

    And while your child is breaking down, you are there dealing with your own emotions.

    Perhaps you feel helpless, wishing you could deposit the necessary motor skills or knowledge into her brain. Sometimes you feel annoyed, because she’s taking so long and you have places to go. Often you just want to take over, to end the crying.

    Grown-ups sometimes forget what it is like to be little. Children have to rely on us for so many things that they wish they could do themselves. And learning to do those things is often a tough process.

    The Little Boy and the Old Man

    Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
    Said the old man, “I do that, too.”
    The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
    “I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
    Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
    The old man nodded, “So do I.”
    “But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
    Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
    And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
    “I know what you mean,” said the little old man.

    Shel Silverstein

    I find that whenever I am feeling frustrated with my child’s behavior or actions, it helps to put myself in his shoes – to think of a situation where I have felt similar emotions. Empathizing with my children is a key component to my practice of two of the API principles: Responding with Sensitivity and Practice Positive Discipline.

    In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg describes empathy as “‘a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.’ Empathy is simply being with a person, non-judgmentally as they are without offering advice, validation, or solutions.” (Buy the book – Nonviolent Communication)

    The exercise above is meant to be one that facilitates empathy. To give you a concrete experience to reflect on the next time your child struggles to master a seemingly simple task. Having this memory tucked away will enable you to sit patiently with your child as a compassionate and supportive presence.

    How do you practice empathy with your child?

    How do your nurture empathy in your child?


    This post has been edited from a previous version published at APTly Said.

    Photo Credit 1: Adapted from ebolasmallpox

    Photo Credit 2: Horrigans

One Response to:
"The Importance of Empathizing with Children"

  1. What a wonderful exercise! As someone who can write competently with both hands it would not work for me but I understand its message.

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