If you want your children to know they are loved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, start practicing empathy. But, let’s be honest, it’s not always easy. When you’ve got a child unraveling before your eyes, you might be tempted to try to “fix it.” The problem is, that can invalidate their feelings.
So having a few phrases that express empathy ready is a good idea.
Pause a second… what is empathy?
Empathy builds bridges of influence to our children’s hearts, especially when they misbehave. According to Dr. Brené Brown, “Empathy is feeling WITH people.”
Take a look at Dr. Brown’s short video on the difference between empathy and sympathy. As you watch, consider the application for you and your children.
There is such power in Dr. Brown’s closing statement, “The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”
How to make empathy statements
Avoid condescension (sympathy). Choose true empathy to build intimacy (“I get it! Me too!”) and trust with your child.
Remember the difference between empathy and sympathy. Your kids don’t want your sympathy. Remember in Dr. Brown’s video that guy that looked down from above? Don’t be him.
Be the one that climbs down into the dark hole and says, “Yeah, I’ve been here before too.”
All the “empathy phrases” we give you could be expressed either way. You could say them with empathy in the context of a conversation that expresses understand. Or, you could say them sympathy. The message would be, “YOU feel this way. I can see that. But I would never feel that way.”
Check your heart and remember how it feels to struggle before communicating.
20 empathy statements to try with your kids:
- I can see that you’re hurting. That’s an awful feeling.
- Thank you for sharing that with me. My heart hurts for you.
- I know you’re really angry with me—I’m glad you are honest with me.
- I’ve felt that way too.
- Can I rub your back or just sit with you while you sort out these big feelings?
- You’re having a really tough day. I get it.
- Sometimes I feel ____ when…
- I know you’re upset it didn’t work out. But you did your very best, and I’m proud of you.
- That makes sense. I’d feel that way too.
- It sounds like you’ve had quite a day!
- I’d be disappointed too.
- Friendships can be so hard! I remember struggling with these problems at recess too.
- You know, I do the same thing sometimes! It’s so hard for me to make the right choice.
- I think I hurt your feelings. Can we talk about it?
- It must be tempting to give up…
- We’re both struggling right now, aren’t we?
- Do you want to hear about my worst day at school, too?
- This is hard to talk about it, isn’t it?
- I don’t know what you should do, but I’m always in your corner.
- It’s brave of you to talk honestly with me.
Any of these statements can then be followed up by the simple invitation, “Want a hug?”
Try this next time your kiddo struggles and let us know how it goes.