Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Power of Empathy


noun \ˈem-pə-thē\
: the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings…  Merriam Webster

Imagine that you have had an atrocious day.  The morning started out with little Amy Beth refusing to get up.  Then she didn’t want to eat breakfast or wear the clothes that she had picked out the night before. The blouse, which she normally loves, was just too itchy.  She was in one of her moods.
Amy Beth whined all the way to school and exclaimed that you are a mean mommy because you didn’t allow her to eat chocolate cookies for breakfast.  By the time you arrived to school, Amy Beth was 5 minutes late and you felt totally rattled.
Once at work, you finally started to focus on the huge project that was due by the end of the day.  Just as things began to move smoothly the phone rang.   It was the school. Little Amy Beth had refused to do her work and had a major meltdown at lunch.  The assistant principal recounted that she screamed wildly, threw food, and finally hid under the table holding on to the table legs for dear life.  You were told that it was imperative that you come to the school as soon as possible.

I think by now you’re getting the idea that this was a really bad day.  So, let’s move ahead to when you finally arrived home to your husband.  When asked, “How was your day?” you exploded into a rant.

After a moment, your husband replied, “Honey, when are you ever going to learn to plan ahead for such unforeseen circumstances?  And, haven’t I been telling you that Mary Beth has been going to bed too late? You just really let that child rule the roost……………………..”

Just imagine how you were feeling after receiving these questions and remarks from your beloved?  My guess is that you were not finding them helpful and in fact you probably began to focus your venom on your spouse.   However, if your husband had provided you with a good empathetic response such as, “What a rotten day, you must be so discouraged and exhausted,” you would probably feel validated, heard and understood.  You might feel even better if he added,” What can I do to help?”

Often, when we are emotionally distraught, the thing that soothes us the most is a healthy dose of empathy.  Just a simple phrase that lets you know that another human being understands how you are feeling is remarkably calming.

My challenge for you is to provide empathy to the children in your life.  Instead of preaching, “shoulding,” punishing or problem solving, provide a short statement of empathy and see what happens.  Not quite sure how to go about this?  The following are some phrases and examples that might be helpful.  The key to having empathetic responses work effectively is to deliver them with sincerity.
  • Your child is tired and unusually cranky.

“Wow, you must feel really tired.  Would you like me to 

             help you put your toys away before going to bed?
  • After telling your child not to run in the parking lot, she does anyway and breaks her favorite necklace.
“What a bummer! That was such a special piece of jewelry.”
  • Your child has broken down in tears because he or she put off doing a school project and must miss a sleepover.
It must be really disappointing to have to miss the party.  I know you were really looking forward to going and being with your friends.”
 Give empathy a chance. It really works.