Tools: Empathy

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Empathy—the capacity to understand or express understanding of the emotions of another, the ability to connect and emotionally support another person.

Empathy is the “social glue” of relationships and encompasses three levels:

  • Cognitive, which allows us to be able to “see” the situation, issue, concern, topic, from someone else’s point of view, to be in their shoes so-to-speak, understand better from where the perspective originates.
  • Personal Distress, when we literally become flushed with the same emotion the person is feeling.
  • Empathetic Concern, where we recognize the emotional state and tune into it, feeling and showing appropriate concern.

For parents, empathy means understanding, as best we can, the confusion, hurts and needs of the child. Understanding where these dwell, and why. Helping the child understand the origin and meaning of her thoughts, emotions and behavior, in age-appropriate language and without judgment. The steps in empathy are:

  • Being open. Can you park your perspective long enough to consider other opinions, viewpoints, ideas, and arguments?
  • Being present. What I mean is not just occupying the space you’re in, but being in the moment, here and now. When you are present your mind is clear and focused.
  • Assessing your nonverbal cues. Are you leaning in or leaning out? What’s your posture? Are your arms crossed? Are you facing your child? What does your face say? Emotions are visible around the eyes and in the
  • Engaging with your child. Have you established eye contact? Are you touching your child? Are you LISTENING?
  • Limiting your interruptions Can you?
  • Being reciprocal and expressive. Can you respond to your child with a relevant in about yourself that relates to what they are sharing or feeling? Kiddos respond well to stories they can relate to.

Empathy is a tool that allows access to being aware of and responsive to our children and their needs. Insight is unveiled and parents can begin the process of emotional support and validation of “I understand how you feel.”

For Discussion: How else have you been able to use the tool of empathy effectively with your child? What have you discovered when you use empathy with your child?

Photo by Jonny Hirons

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Liz Raptis Picco February 14, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thanks for a great post! Empathy diffuses the power struggle with my teenage sons who seem at the ready to pick an argument. It’s not always easy, but it’s paid off.


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