So I often get asked, what is the most important thing to do as a parent. Now there are a lot of things we do that impact our children. But I want to share with you, what I feel is the single most important thing you can do. For this video, we are talking about the single most important parenting technique…..and that is empathy.
What exactly is empathy and what does it have to do with parenting? In it’s simplest form, it’s putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s understanding or feeling what another person is experiencing. Us guys are typically not very good at empathy. Whether it be because we never learned what it is and how effective it can be, or we simply make the choice to not be empathetic. Men, as a stereotype, often think more than they feel. Being truly empathetic towards someone else, requires really feeling what they are feeling. As a dad, there are countless moments that will save you tremendous headaches while strengthening the relationship with your child.
Let me give you some examples. Your 5 year old can’t find his shoes in the morning before school. He’s crying and freaking out. Here is a typical, non-empathetic response from dad:
“You can’t find your shoes? Are you kidding me? You just had them yesterday. Why can’t you ever find your shoes?”
Here is a response with empathy:
“I can see you are really upset about your shoes. It must be really difficult to not be able to find them.”
You may even offer to help. While not being able to find your shoes seems very trivial to us and we would simply go find another pair, to a 5 year old this can be devastating. We need to look at the situation from the child’s point of view and realize it is a very big deal to them. We then need to acknowledge that and their feelings. Here is another example: Your 12 year daughter plays competitive basketball and it really upset about losing the game. She also missed some key plays and is mad at herself.
Non-empathetic response: “It’s ok, you’ll get them next time. You have 12 more games left in the season. Maybe you just need to practice more.”
Empathetic response: “Losing isn’t fun. I know. It’s really hard to feel like you put a lot of effort into something and then not come out on top. I’m sorry this is bothering you.”
We all went our feelings validated, not negated. If you hurt yourself and then someone said “your ok. There is no blood, so your good” would that really help? If you told your wife something at work was really frustrating and she said “why are you so upset, it’s not a big deal”. Would that help you feel better? When you feel like someone else understands you and is really listening, you feel closer to them. You are more likely to build trust and a better relationships.
So go out there and deploy some empathy with your kids. Heck, try it with your wife, friends, and anyone else. You’ll probably find yourself getting along better with people.