Sincere empathy is one of the keys to comforting your child in times of pain or discomfort. This article will explore ways to be present and increase your feelings of empathy towards your child with tips and suggestions. Discover the barriers to expressing empathy and learn how to use empathy to ensure your child feels loved and understood.

My experience

Not long ago, I had an experience that reminded me how important empathy is when comforting kids. I was preparing dinner when at some point, my youngest came into the kitchen crying about his foot. I quickly glanced at his foot, and it appeared uninjured. Because he looked fine, I casually dismissed his complaints saying, “It’s okay, go back and play with your siblings.”

Recognizing my mistake

I continued to cook, but my son didn’t leave the kitchen. He looked up at me and said, “Look at my foot mom.” I realized then that what my child needed was to feel seen. I stopped dinner prep and knelt down at his foot. I gently took it in my hands and examined it carefully. My initial assessment of the foot had been correct, there was nothing wrong with it. When I asked my son where the pain was, he smiled at me. “It’s all gone.” I gave him a quick hug, and he was ready to go and play again. 

As I thought about the experience, I was reminded how important sincere empathy is when comforting a child. When my son first approached me, I was busy and didn’t take the time to really empathize with him. My strategy here had been to just try and sweep the problem under the rug instead of actually trying to understand.

Sometimes when our children come to us for help, they are not actually wanting us to fix something. Sometimes, they really just need us to validate their feelings of pain and frustration. 

Barriers to sincere empathy

When a child is constantly coming to your complaining about a host of different things, it can be easy to become numb to some of their requests. This doesn’t mean we are terrible parents. We have just gotten used to hearing “I’m hungry.” “Watch me do this.” “I’m bored.” And other such demands all day long. In some ways, it becomes a little like the boy who cried wolf. 

Parent Burnout

Parent burnout is when the demands of parenthood lead to feelings of being completely overwhelmed. It can have negative effects on parents’ physical, mental, and emotional health. Parents who are suffering from burnout might not have the energy or reserves to empathize as effectively as they would like.

Tuning Out

Children come to us with almost constant requests. There are times it may take a more obvious crisis to get our attention. As a nurse, I often fought was is called alarm fatigue. When nurses are around alarms all day long, they begin to tune them out. How do we battle this type of situation with our children? Is there a way to make sure we are not just hearing but actually listening? Here are a few suggestions.

Tips for being present with your child

  1. Recognize when you may be in a position of sensory overload

Nurses are more likely to miss patient alarms when there is a lot going on around them. At home, becoming aware of when your situation is overly chaotic can clue you in for when you are getting overloaded. 

  1. Slow Down

Once you recognize you are feeling overloaded, take a minute to slow things down in your mind. Stop what you are doing and assess the situation. As a bedside nurse, I was often pulled in multiple directions at the same time. Sometimes, I really needed a few minutes so I could clear my thoughts and prioritize my task list.

  1. Prioritize

Figure out what actually has to be done immediately, and which tasks can be accomplished later. In experience above, I was so busy cooking, I failed to recognize that my child need my time.

  1. Focus

Once you have determined what to prioritize, give that your full focus. If I had given my child more focus, I would have been able to recognize his needs.

When we are truly tuned in and present with our children, it is easier to build empathy. Here are some ways we can increase our capacity for empathy.

Using introspection to boost your empathy

Remember your childhood

Recall how you felt when you were a kid and you were sick or injured. Think about what kind of response from your parents was comforting. If they ignored your pain, how did that make you feel? Understanding how children feel when they’re in pain can help you empathize with your child’s situation.

Dig Deeper

When your child comes to you with a problem, don’t assume you know everything by just looking at them. Try to get a sense of what your child is actually feeling. Is it pain, fear, anger, or frustration? There are many different underlying reasons why a child needs comfort. Understanding those reasons can help you respond more empathetically.

Acknowledge your weaknesses

Think about how you may be approaching your child with old baggage. Perhaps you grew up in a home where crying was not tolerated, and now you have set the same expectation. Examine your biases and try to respond to your child’s needs without those patterns from the past getting in the way.

Practice self compassion

It can be difficult to show empathy for our children when we can’t seem to find it for ourselves. Practicing self-compassion will help us experience more empathy for the feelings our children are having.

Top ten ways to develop sincere empathy

  1. Approach big feelings with curiosity vs judgment

2. Welcome differences of opinion

3. Identify common ground

4. Listen carefully

5. Cultivate a growth mindset

6. Ask clarifying questions

7. Examine your internal biases

8. Explore the other person’s point of view

9. Pay attention to facial expressions, voice tones, and body language

10. Let go of old assumptions to make room for new discoveries

Expressing sincere empathy

Once we have developed empathy for our children, it’s important that we know how to communicate it to our children. Here are three suggestions for how to figure out your response.

  1. Listen actively: When your child shares their feelings with you, focus on listening to what they are saying. This means giving them your full attention, making eye contact, and avoiding interruptions or distractions.
  2. Identify their emotions: Pay attention to the words they use, their tone of voice, and their body language to help you understand the emotions they are feeling. For example, if they use words like “frustrated,” “angry,” or “overwhelmed,” they are likely feeling some level of stress or distress.
  3. Reflect back: Once you have identified their emotions, reflect them back to your child. This shows that you are actively listening and helps them feel heard and validated. For example, you could say, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated right now. That must be tough.”

Empathy statements to use with children

  1. “I can see that you’re feeling sad/angry/frustrated right now. It’s okay to feel that way.”
  2. “I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to.”
  3. “That must have been really tough for you. How can I help?”
  4. “I understand how you feel. I’ve felt that way before too.”
  5. “You’re not alone. We can work through this together.”
  6. “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way. Let’s figure out what we can do to make things better.”
  7. “I’m proud of you for telling me how you feel. That takes a lot of courage.”
  8. “It’s okay to cry or be upset. Sometimes it helps to let our emotions out.”
  9. “I’m listening to you and I want to help you feel better.”
  10. “I care about you and I want to support you.”

Remember to pay attention to your tone of voice, and to listen actively to your child’s responses.

  1. Share your own experiences: Sharing your own experiences can be helpful for children, as it shows them that they are not alone in their struggles. For example, “I remember feeling nervous on my first day of school too.” or “When I was your age, I had trouble with math too.” This helps children feel understood and can help them feel more confident in their own experiences.
  2. Show compassion and kindness: Your children will thrive on positive attention and affection, so show them compassion and kindness whenever you can. This might involve offering a hug when they’re upset, celebrating their accomplishments, or simply spending time together doing something they enjoy. These small acts of kindness show that you care and help children feel supported.
  3. Provide comfort: Offer comfort and support when your child is upset. This might involve giving them a hug, holding their hand, or just being present with them. This helps your child feel safe and supported, which can help them regulate their emotions.
  4. Use age-appropriate language: When showing empathy towards children, it’s important to use language that is appropriate for their age and level of understanding. Use simple, clear language.

Final Thoughts

As we approach our children with sincere empathy, they will feel loved and understood. It is difficult to treat a problem that we are not seeing correctly. Take the time to really “see” your children, and empathize with their feelings. You will discover that sincere empathy is a powerful tool when it comes to comforting and supporting our kids.

For more information on comforting communication, check out my articles on Parent Burnout, comforting kids with the 5 love languages, and love your children, trust yourself.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *