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Why Empathy Doesn't Work

When you make the switch to being more conscious and aware of your words and actions - using empathy becomes your "first aid" for negativity.

Empathy allows us to move through our emotions so that we can regain control of our thoughts and behaviors, but this is a skill that takes time to develop in children.

You may want (or expect) immediate changes. When you are new to this shift (and even if you aren't) you may find yourself thinking, "I'm using empathy but s/he still won't listen."

That is because empathy is not a "technique" to make your children listen -- or to get you what you want.

Empathy is a process of listening deeply without expectation. If you empathize with your child solely to change behavior, then you are not really empathizing.

You are not in the moment - you are directing the moment, looking ahead to where you wish you were - instead of accepting the moment for what it is.

Empathy is a process of presence.
Empathy is void of expectation.

Using empathy with the expectation of better behavior (while it is an eventual benefit) will only frustrate you in the NOW. You won't have the patience to be OPEN to what comes up if you have a preconceived notion of "how it needs to go."

When you use empathy to give your children what they need, you give them the space to understand what is happening, and come to terms with what they are feeling.

Once they know what they feel and why - they can choose better strategies. This is not an instant change but an unfolding of development - a journey which takes many years and lots of practice.

The rush to manage and sort out behavior is likely at the root of your inability to feel at ease with what empathy really does for you and your children.

Here are Five Rules for Empathy to keep in mind when you feel like nothing is "working." Guide your children to evolve their capacity for self-discipline by modeling the tools you want them to internalize.

1. Reflect what you see and hear without the "buts."

"I know you are feeling sad... BUT you can't..."
"It's okay to be mad... BUT you shouldn't..."

Leave off the "but" and then feel the energy shift.

2. Listen without waiting for your turn to speak. Ears open. Mouth shut.

Silence is golden.

3. Acknowledge what you hear without assumption, evaluation or interpretation.

Instead of: "That was a poor decision."
Try: "It sounds like this was an outcome you weren't expecting."

Instead of: "What were you thinking?"
Try: "I imagine you were feeling mad/frustrated/sad when you did that."

4. Listen for the deeper pain behind the anger, judgment or criticism you may hear.

Put on your compassionate ears to filter out the negative. When you listen from this perspective, you aren't as likely to be offended - especially by someone so young, and with so much inner turmoil.

People in pain often cry out in anger.

5. Allow feelings to take their own path of expression.

Don't control the way children express their emotions by leaving, ignoring or requiring them to change immediately, but stay close and supportive and step in for safety when necessary. Children will adapt positive coping skills once they feel that their ideas, feelings and opinions have been considered and heard.

That's all we really want as humans - to feel like we belong and that what we have to say, and how we experience things matters to those closest to us.

I know it's tough to control your triggers, so take it one step at a time and if you need more help, consider joining me for an 8 week transformation in my online parenting intensive Peaceful Solutions for Parents & Kids.

What do you find most difficult about using empathy and staying calm and what is one step you have taken to overcome that challenge?

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