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Running on ‘E’ for Empathy

By Sophie Barcant,
BA (Psyc), B.ED
Trainer, Facilitator,
Parenting Coach/Consultant

What sort of response do you like to receive from your significant other when you share some news with them of a mishap, e.g. like a fender bender, loss of something important, or a story of a relationship challenge?

Typical responses could be ‘Yuh bounce de car again!’, ‘You can’t drive or what?’, or ‘Don’t study that, you are ok, you will be fine’.

Do you feel heard or listened to with the above responses? Or do you feel as if your feelings have been brushed aside?

Many people would admit that those typical responses make them feel ignored.

We tend to do this to our children too, shooting off quick responses of what we think is encouragement when they courageously step out to express some sort of concern, anxiety, fear, angry feelings, disappointment or pain.

We all have a need to be heard and when this need is not met and our expressions of emotion fall on deaf ears, we can tend to gradually lose trust in that significant person in our life on whom we depend for emotional support.

Children and adults alike, experiencing this may withdraw and become sad, lose faith in others, become bitter and then search out and gravitate to groups who can meet that need to be heard and feel important. They may even resort to substance abuse and self harm to numb the pain of suppressed emotions.

This may sound extreme but this is the case when the need to feel significant, important and heard is not met.

So how should we respond when children come telling tales or sharing their fears and worries?

With empathy first!

Picture these scenarios:


Scenario 1.

Grumpy Teen: “Mummy, I am so vex, my teacher sent me out of class for something I did not even do. I even had to miss break and lunch!”

Parent: “Wow! that must feel so frustrating. I’m sorry to hear that. I would feel angry too.”

Not, “You must have been fooling around. You children are so miserable. Those poor teachers.”


Scenario 2.

Whining child: “Daddy, Kevon broke my truck, I’m going to beat him!”

Parent: “Oh shucks, that is really bad, your favorite truck too. I would be upset as well. Let’s calm down and think about how to treat with this.”

Not, “I don’t want to hear your tales. Go sort out your business.”


Scenario 3.

Child lamenting sadly: “Mummy, Emily didn’t invite me to her party. All the other girls are going, I want to go. That’s not fair.”

Parent: “Yes, that must hurt. I can imagine how bad that feels. These situations are not easy to deal with. I’m right here if you want to talk about what could be going on with these friends.”

Not, “Don’t worry, they are a bunch of bratty girls anyway. You can find other better friends.”

Try your own version of empathic responses, always in a friendly tone and see your children face disappointments more positively and maturely. Rejoice also that they trusted you and made themselves vulnerable to share their feelings.


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