All parents know what empathy means or have an idea what’s about; but, what gets in your way of practicing empathic behaviors when parenting your teen?
Here are some responses: general busyness of life, negative thoughts or judgments about yourself and your teen (e.g. I’m such a bad mom, my teens is sloppy, here she’s again complaining, etc), and your own overwhelming feelings.. Additionally, if you have urges to simply “problem-solve,” deny, or lecture your teen, these behaviors will become barriers to practicing empathic behaviors.
So, what can you do?
To build empathy, you can practice the four A’s : ask, accept, appreciate, and acknowledge your teen’s experience verbally, and ask directly what you can do to help your teen in that moment.
Ask curious questions about the difficulties your teen is going through. Curious questions are generally open-ended, they require descriptive responses rather than one-word answers. Example: Could you tell me more about this?
Accept your teen’s reality. You do not have to agree with your teen to understand that whatever they are sharing is very real to them. Even if it does not seem as big as they make it out to be, just know that they are really in pain and they are sharing that with you.
Appreciate by verbally acknowledging and paraphrasing your teen’s struggle. Try stepping into their shoes! Repeat back to them your understanding of whatever is causing them pain. Example: “It is pretty crummy that your friends didn’t invite you to the movies. I can see why you are feeling upset and left out.” Without being reactive, share your authentic feelings too, being a real person with feelings rather than just an authority figure can help foster the relationship.
Ask directly what you can do to help your teen in that moment. This is not solving the problem/situation for them, but with understanding and acknowledgement of their pain, it is offering of support. Example: “Is there anything I can do for you in this moment?” This is also having respect for their ability to know and express what they need in the moment, which fosters their ability to manage their own emotions.
Why should you practice empathic behaviors?
Because when your teen’s emotional switch is on, he’s hurting, and it’s all about his or her pain; unless you let him know that you “get it” he will feel unseen, unheard, and will stay in that emotional wave. While empathy is always a great parenting skill, it becomes more necessary, like a must, if your child struggles with intense emotions. Your child has more frequent upsetting situations than a child with less sensitivity to emotions.
unless you let him know that you “get it” he will feel unseen, unheard, and will stay in that emotional wave Click To TweetEach interaction with your teen allows for practice and growth for both of you!