Your child will learn to talk at around 12 months. Once they start to develop full sentences (around 3 years old), they’ll begin to express wants and needs that you might not be able to accommodate. This could lead to either you or your child becoming upset or frustrated.
It’s worthwhile learning how to be empathetic with your child, even if you think they’re being unreasonable about something. Children learn by example; showing empathy will not only help reduce stress on both of you but also encourage your child to be empathetic with others.
Granted, it’s not always easy to be empathetic. It can be difficult to stay calm and composed no matter what age your child is. Young children are prone to mood swings, tantrums, and bouts of stubbornness without being able to properly tell you what’s wrong. When your child reaches adolescence, this moodiness can increase, with your teenager actively choosing to not talk to you and being impossible to reason with.
Ultimately, if your child is feeling sad, it’s important that they have a good support system to help them with their problems. Different methods will work for different children; your child might respond differently each time, so you should read the situation and respond appropriately. No matter what age or what circumstance, here’s a simple three-step process to help you be more empathetic.
Try to understand where they’re coming from
As we get older, we tend to forget what it’s like to experience the world as a child. This can lead to dismissing children’s problems as trivial or unimportant - however, nothing that upsets them is ever trivial or unimportant to them. You should forefront their emotions, not yours.
You can do this by:
- Asking them what’s wrong, not assuming.
- Not immediately judging - let them talk first, then you can figure it out together.
- Telling them their feelings are valid.
- Considering why they’re upset about something.
By seeing from their point of view, you may find that the solution is more achievable than you thought. Even if your child can’t formulate why they’re upset, gentle encouragement and open questions will help you get to the root of the cause. Once you’ve understood this, you can move on to the next step. When we encourage children to talk about their feelings, we can foster better emotional understanding for the future.
Think of solutions together
Combatting these feelings can be the hardest part. There is no fix-all solution any time your child is upset. Instead, it’s a constant conversation.
Let’s break down an example. If your 6 year old is upset because you don’t have time to take them to the park, here are some questions you can ask:
- If they want to get outdoors, can someone else take them? Do you have any trusted family or friends who can lend a hand?
- If they want to play, is there another activity they can do where you can supervise?
- If they want attention from you, can you make time in your schedule to spend meaningful time together?
Given that your child can be upset for a multitude of reasons, you won’t be asking yourself the same questions every time. It helps to be versatile and approach each situation with a can-do attitude.
Remember, it’s understanding where your child is coming from that helps you figure out what to do about it. When you brainstorm together, you can hopefully reach a solution that works for both of you. Approaching this together will also help you be more empathetic - you can get a better understanding of what your child wants and how you can help them.
Figure out what works best in future
Use these situations to figure out what to do next time. Does your child need someone to listen to them? Do they need physical comfort? Do they need time alone? What kind of solutions do they respond well to?
Having a plan to turn to will help you be more empathetic. Knowing the ways you and your child can approach a situation means you’ll be prepared next time they have a meltdown. It’s important to remember that your child is also a person with real thoughts and feelings. They deserve the same respect and empathy that you would give people your own age.
To practice empathy regularly is to get better at it. This will teach your child to pay attention to their moods, as well as consider how other people feel. When you work together to understand the emotions that your child is experiencing, this will benefit you both.
Final thoughts from Kami
It’s easy to forget how tricky it can be for children to deal with their emotions. It’s much harder for them to regulate their moods than it is for us adults, so a bit of empathy goes a long way. Being an empathetic role model towards them will nurture that same empathy in them towards others. By learning how to manage your child’s negative emotions, you can help create a safe environment for them to grow.