This is huge. And I know sometimes it is difficult. When your child is screaming and throwing a fit over something seemingly minute, the last thing you’re thinking about is how to tell them you understand because well, a lot of the time you don’t really feel like you understand why your little nugget is so upset over having to clean up after themselves, practice school work or share with their sibling. It seems like they are just being spoiled! But if you could try to take an extra moment to validate those real emotions, however trivial they may seem to you, you are teaching your child that it’s ok to have those feelings and setting an example on how to be understanding and tolerant. It’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way, I know sometimes it stinks having to do this, but I know you can do it!” Even giving them an account of when you felt the same way, letting them know you get it (even though in your head you’re just thinking how ridiculous this whole thing is.) You then follow up with teaching them the ideal way to handle those feelings. I’m not telling you to let your child get away with behaving poorly, impulsively and irrationally, the poor behavior is not valid, the feelings always are.
Empathy is a learned skill.
When your child is doing something you might consider “mean” or “selfish,” sit them down and look them in the eye and ask them, “If someone was doing that to you, how would that make you feel?” This is so important! I wouldn’t solely scold them and discipline them although many times discipline will be warranted, I also wouldn’t encourage the “tit for tat” mentality because that is also counter productive for teaching empathy. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” I remember my parents saying this many times, and it is so true. This will also instill accountability and stop your child from developing a vengeful, vindictive mentality. Teach them to be the bigger person.
The example you set is your most influential tool as a parent.
Showing your children empathy is the most important way to teach them to do the same. This goes for any morals and values you want your children to learn. When my son is throwing a tantrum because he has to write sentences for making a poor choice, even though he is being a little terror in that moment, he looks at me with those big teared up eyes and I hug him. I tell him it sucks but this is how we learn, and that it’s ok to make mistakes.
Always ask yourself what you can do to be better! We are always learning and growing as parents, the learning never stops!
Parenting is the hardest job on this planet! Don’t be too hard on yourself and forgive yourself for mistakes. Learn from them and move forward, your kids will thank you someday.