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4 Ways to Practice Empathetic Parenting

Empathetic Parenting is the opposite of Punitive Parenting. Empathetic Parenting connects to the underlying feelings and motivations underneath the child's behavior, rather than to the parent's need for the unwanted behavior to be simply eliminated. Empathetic Parenting involves parents guiding children into emotions awareness, so it sets kids up to better understand their own emotions, too. Parenting empathetically, you can help your child with so much more than just learning what to do and what not to do: you can help them learn how to process their underlying feeling the next time it shows up.

Here are few ways to bring more empathy into your parenting!

#1 - Label Your Child's Emotional State Before You Respond

This might sound something like "It looks you're feeling angry because you aren't able to eat dessert before dinner, is that right?" Labeling your child's emotional state automatically requires you to empathize and consider how they are feeling, bringing their underling emotion into your awareness. This makes you more likely to take it into consideration as you proceed, and less likely to see them as disobeying just to be difficult.

#2 - Practice Self Compassion

It's ok for kids to have big feelings -- in fact, it would be concerning if they didn't! It's not your job to make it all better, all the time. Giving yourself some love for supporting your kids without needing everything to look perfect can be an important step to staying in a headspace where empathy is possible.

#3 - Empathize

Even if it's "just a cookie before dinner," we all experience times in our life where we expect something to go one way, and it goes another. It's tricky! All feelings arise from needs that are very real to the person having the feeling, even if it seems trivial or pointed to those witnessing it. As a parent, you are in a unique position to help your children learn how to best respond to big feelings in a way that takes care of themselves but doesn't cause harm.

"Shucks, it would be really disappointing to want something so much and for it to not be available! I've felt that before too. Can I give you a hug to help you feel better? Something that helps me when I've had that feeling is remembering all the other times I've been able to have the thing I'm missing, and remembering that I can have it again in a little bit."

#4 - Contextualize Your Child's Feeling in Their Developmental Process

It's ok if you can't solve all your child's big feelings -- and it would be worrisome if you could. They wouldn't learn much for themselves! The feeling that arises over a cookie today is the same feeling that might arise over not getting picked for the team they want at recess tomorrow. Having the space to "come out the other side" is what helps children understand that all feelings pass, and having support through that process allows them to translate healthy emotional coping into other settings. Inviting kids to color, move around, journal, or sing can all be helpful ways to give kids space to let their feelings run their course.

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