Creative Child

3 Ways to Become a More Empathetic Parent

by Rebecca Eanes

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes – to understand what they are feeling, what’s driving them, and how they are experiencing the world around them. Empathy is important in parenting because it affects the way we relate to and build attachment with our children. It is one of the five principles of positive parenting.  As we seek to understand our children’s feelings and experiences, we draw closer to them. In turn, they are more secure, cooperative, and connected.

Being attuned to our children and having the ability to see from their perspective helps us to respond more appropriately and to parent better. The secure attachment that empathy helps us to build is critical for the child’s development and mental/emotional well-being. Here are three ways to increase empathy and create a deeper relationship with your child.

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1. Pay attention to the stories you believe about yourself and your child. Ask yourself these questions: What’s going on in me? What’s going on in my child?

The stories we believe about ourselves and each other are powerful. The narratives that we pay attention to always influence how we behave and how we expect others to behave. These are also called your core beliefs. For example, if you believe that your child is trying to manipulate you with his behavior, you will react in accordance to that belief. Many parents do believe that behavior is manipulative – that children are just trying to “get their way” or “get attention.” It’s a common narrative about children, and buying into it means that we are more likely to react with defensiveness and anger. If you believe that you “just aren’t very patient or tolerant,” you’ll be less likely to work toward greater patience and tolerance because of your fixed mindset.

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Become curious about your beliefs and where they came from. Be gentle with yourself and with your child as you work through those core beliefs and mindsets that affect your day to day interactions. Likewise, get curious about what is causing your child’s behavior. What is she experiencing? What may she be thinking or feeling? What is her behavior communicating? When you start to ask these questions, you’ll find that you automatically respond with more empathy because you aren’t relying on old reactions and patterns any longer. As you become more aware of your child’s emotional state and the feelings and thoughts that are motivating her behavior, you’ll also become aware of new ways to guide her.

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