We were created for connection. Study after study has shown that our ability to emotionally connect to others plays a huge role in our overall emotional and physical health. This connection happens through emotions, feelings, vulnerability, and relationship.
Teaching our kids emotional intelligence is one of the best things we can do to help them become healthy adults. But we don’t often talk about how to do this for ourselves. (I have an article on Emotional Intelligence for Kids and Emotional Intelligence for Parents.) The key to all of this is empathy.
So, what is empathy?
We tell parents over and over how important empathy is, but do we actually understand what it is and how to do it? What if we aren’t by nature an empathetic and compassionate person? What if we weren’t raised or been in relationships with empathy?
Empathy is our ability and our desire to feel with someone, to understand how they feel. To put ourselves in their shoes, or see things from their point of view and feel along with them. Once we become skilled at this and connected with someone, we can often sense how they are feeling.
Think of conversations you have with others. People who show compassion, listen, and feel along with you are often the easiest people to talk to and someone we feel we can open up to. We want this with our kids and in our relationships. We want our kids to know Mom and Dad will be compassionate and empathetic, not someone who shames or constantly lectures. When we show our kids we are empathetic, they are more likely to want to talk to us about their problems.
Benefits of Empathy-
- We feel connected.
- We can connect to others, strangers, family, etc.
- Empathy can help relationships grow deeper.
- When others show us empathy, we feel understood and comforted.
- Empathy helps with communication.
- Empathy helps with compassion, kindness, respect.
We are wired for empathy-
- Emotions are indicators and meant to be felt and expressed. We are born to be empathetic and emotional beings. But these things aren’t always comfortable nor to they always come naturally.
- Through our mirror neurons, we can pick up on others feelings (and stress).
- If empathy, understanding, compassion, or emotionally vulnerability do not come easily, it can take practice. If you find that empathy doesn’t come easily, I encourage you to take time to notice emotions and feelings in yourself and in others. Take note of how you are feeling and what’s going on. Developing the skills of emotional intelligence and empathy takes practice, but the benefits are worth it.
Empathy and Parenting-
- Emotional vulnerability in our kids, their ability to safely express how they are feeling to us, is a crucial part of our connection to each other. We provide for our child’s basic needs, and we also need to provide for their emotional needs.
- We don’t have to agree with our kids to empathize with them. We just need to be there with our compassion.
- Meet them with empathy. Be present and listen. Help them name what they are feeling and help them if they need help feeling better or solving a problem.
- Our sincerity matters. Many times, we can come off as sarcastic or phony. When we use our hearts to speak to our kids, we speak directly into theirs.
You can read more on The Importance of Empathy here.
We discuss these in our parenting classes all the time. When we respond with empathy, we reach out to our child’s emotional right brain. Once we do this, we can help them label how they feel and validate what’s going on.
Empathy more than just saying the words. It’s about being sincere and understanding. It’s about feeling along with them.
Here are some examples:
- “Oh man, I bet that didn’t feel good.”
- “It hurts when that happens.”
- “I completely understand how you’re feeling.”
- “I get frustrated/upset/angry/excited/scared when something like that happens to me too.”
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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This blog is written as an educational and general resource only. It should not be used to diagnose or as a substitute for parenting or relational therapy, advice, or counseling with a professional therapist or medical doctor. Renewed Hope Parenting is not responsible for results or use of the information provided in these pages if you choose to use them. Everything included in this blog and website is copyrighted to Emily Scott, PhD and Renewed Hope Parenting and may not be used without permission.