“Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles” – Empathy

Today’s chapter from “Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles:  Winning for a Lifetime” by author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is “Empathy.”

In order to develop a sense of trust, a child needs to know

  1.  They can count on their caregiver to respond sensitively to their needs.
  2. They are worthy of attention.

This is not just for infancy, but for all children.  Empathy is the root of being a connected parent.

When I read this, I had three immediate thoughts:

  • Some parents are extremely empathetic, but struggle with boundaries.  Responding empathetically doesn’t always mean giving the child what they want.  There is a difference between wants and needs and feelings are one piece of health within a family.
  • Some parents who are very empathetic themselves don’t have a hard time putting themselves into their child’s shoes and feeling all that emotion, but actually need to learn how to shield their own emotions a little better so they don’t feel constantly emotionally wiped out.
  • Sometimes empathy is hard, particularly if a child’s behavior is hitting, screeching, yelling, fighting, biting, slaming doors, saying “I hate you!”, teen attitude,  general opposition where you feel you have tried everything peacefully to resolve the situation.

Lucky for us, the author does talk about this.  She talks about viewing behaviors as words.  For small children, we can brainstorm what a child is feeling without them being able to verbalize well.  If we can see that our children are not out to “get us” or “be defiant” (hate that word), it is easier for us to remain calm and try to help our children.

Sometimes people give well-meaning advice that is just plain terrible.  The whole you are spoiling him, he wlll grow up to be a brat, you are the one in control….it makes us as parents feel defensive, doesn’t it? The author writes on page 98, “The reality is that our child-rearing lore is full of advice that discourages us from connecting with our kids.”

So true.  Research has shown that connected kids actually are less demanding and easier to care for.  Truth. If you have a child that is connected and you feel is demanding, it could be their personality is just higher needs in general.   You parenting that child with empathy and connection is actually helping, not harming. There are many back posts on this blog about the high needs child/spirited child if you need more encouragement.

Some of us can handle one emotion , but not the others that our child displays.  Many of us are uncomfortable with anger.  Maybe crying and being sad is okay, but we don’t know what to do with true anger, usually because our own feelings of anger were not acceptable by our own parents.  Part of our work is to look at what we were told as children about our emotions, and figure out how do we work towards something healthier.

We also need to monitor ourselves – our own resentment, exhaustion, drained feelings.  As our children grow, they recognize our feelings more and the relationship is more reciprocal. However, if everything a child needs emotionally from you seems like a demand and makes you angry, counseling is really important to unravel that and help you create healthier patterns.

Love to hear your thoughts,

Carrie