In my role as a parenting speaker I do a lot of role plays with people in the audience. Though I had seen a lot of yelling, whining, and laughter from these role plays, I had never seen tears — but recently that changed.
I was speaking at the MN Adult and Teen Challenge chapel service and I invited a volunteer (I’ll call her Rachel) to come up and help me with role play. I let the audience determine the scenario we would act out. They chose a strained relationship between a dad who had been out of the picture for two years and his 16-year-old daughter.
The first role play was of what might be a typical interaction: blaming, yelling, shaming, accusing, and defending. I played the role of dad and Rachel was my angry teen daughter. It was predictable and actually came very easily to me, since that is a default mode I can slip into with my own daughters when the heat is on and I’m feeling pressure to control a situation. The audience was into it. It almost sounded like the old-school Jerry Springer show where I expected chants of “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” as they saw the action heating up.
As we began again, Rachel was still her angry, mistrusting, hurt self, but my response to her was very different. I calmed my spirit for what I knew was going to be a difficult response from my daughter, softened my tone, and relaxed my face. As she shot her barbs and insults at me, just as she did in the first role play, this time I responded with empathy. I owned my part in the relational discord and continued to invite her to tell me more about her feelings if she wanted to.
Rachel shot a few more inflammatory zingers at me, but when I continued in my soft responses, she began to cry! Literally. Not faking it, but real tears streaming down both cheeks.
The role play ended with her coming toward me and hugging me and wanting to be close to me.
After the role-play, I asked the group and Rachel to reflect on what happened. The group had a lot of helpful and insightful comments, but Rachel summed it up pretty succinctly: “It was really hard to be mad at you when you were so kind to me. Your non-defensiveness and kindness drew me in.”
As we continue the work of learning to parent our children wisely, may we all remember Rachel’s tears and the power of a soft and gentle answer to lead us toward reconciliation and reconnection with our children.
What you can do now
- Think of a common conflict with your child. What are some ways you could empathize with the frustration or anger your child is feeling? (Here are some suggestions!)
- Make a plan for how to stay calm (or to get calm) the next time you and your child butt heads. (If calming down is hard for you, check out these tips to learn to tame your temper.)
- Learn more in our 8-session online course Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart.