Connecting with Your Child Through Empathy​

Recently I came across this excellent Mind/Shift article on empathy and there were a couple of ideas within it I want to share with you.


The first is about the way we as adults approach the interpersonal and emotional struggles students face. It is natural to want to share your own experiences with a child, but sometimes this actually alienates them. In the article, psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler provides this example:


“When teens are overwhelmed, parents may try to connect with their kids’ feelings by drawing on their own childhood experiences. They may say things like, 'When I was fourteen, I had a job, and I still did my homework and made time for my friends. I know that you can do this, too.'


”Most often, students will react to this by thinking you are out of touch with their feelings and don't understand them.


How can we do this differently? Talk about how you felt. For instance, "When my friend rejected me I felt sad and scared."


Ziegler said that connecting with the emotions of the issue is key, because we all have those emotions and kids can connect with that.


The next piece Ziegler mentioned in the article is so needed in our world right now: cognitive empathy, which is a fancy term for seeing both (or multiple) sides of an issue. For instance, if your child is having a fight with a friend, ask them to consider how the friend might be feeling.Tapping into the emotions helps humanize the other person and bring things back into perspective.


This is especially important for teens, who feel emotions so strongly. As the article notes, "...a conflict with a teacher, a clash with a friend or an unanswered text can feel like the end of the world. By strengthening their cognitive empathy, teens can develop an emotional pause button,which reminds them that even when feelings take over, stressful circumstances are temporary."