After giving your child full attention (see cartoons 2 and 3), empathizing with and affirming your child’s feelings is another important step to solving conflicts or avoiding tantrums. When children know that their parents are not only truly listening but also empathizing and affirming their feelings, they are better able to calm down and regain composure. This often helps avoid full-blown temper tantrums.
When children become upset about something that may not seem significant to parents (e.g., the destruction of a flower or loss of a toy), parents need to respect children’s fears and concerns and not belittle them. Talking to children about their worries shows empathy and helps children verbalize their feelings (Durrant, 2016). This is a situation with no place for criticism or sarcasm, which are hurtful to children. Instead, parents should seek to understand their children’s feelings and repeat it back to them to show that they understand and relate to them (in cartoon: “Flowers dying can be upsetting. Is that why you are upset?”).
It is also important to value and acknowledge when children discuss their feelings by rewarding the behavior and encourage information sharing in the future (in cartoon: “You are so caring about living things! That is really nice!”). Indeed, parents raising compassionate children should be proud of this accomplishment. By providing recognition for such behaviors, parents increase children’s self-efficacy and improve their likelihood of engaging in more social and healthy behaviors. This sensitive and responsive parenting has many wonderful benefits, such as more secure parent-child attachments, increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social development among children (Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg & Van Ijzendoorn, 2008; Laible, Carlo & Roesch, 2004). Difficult conversations are also an opportunity for parents to act as positive emotional coaches who talk through tough issues rather than dismiss them. This also has the benefit of encouraging children’s emotional development in the process.
Key take-aways to empathize with your child’s feelings:
1) Encourage children to talk about their feelings, by asking questions (in cartoon: “Flowers dying can be upsetting. Is that why you are upset?”)
2) Acknowledge feelings. Describe the feelings to show that you understand how they feel and are here to help (in cartoon: “Sometimes, people don’t realize they are hurting the flowers. This makes me sad too”).
3) Provide positive reinforcement to encourage sharing feelings. By providing recognition and validation, parents encourage these behaviors, which will help promote social development.