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 or preventing conflicts. 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 (Durant, 2016). It is a scenario with no place for criticism or sarcasm, which is 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 children’s 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; and increased self-esteem, self-efficacy, and cognitive-social development among children (Juffer, Bakermans-Kranenburg & van Ijzendoorn, 2008; Liable-Gustavo & Rosch, 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.
When children know that their parents are not only truely listening but also empathizing and affirming their feelings, they are better able to calm down and regain composure. This often helps avoid a full-blown tantrum.