This post could NOT come at a more appropriate time in our life. Our firstborn is dealing with the ever-challenging issue of a bully at school.
When we decided to send our kids to a private, Christian school we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. It can’t be – it’s full of human beings! Living in a fallen world means we are surrounded by, and are ourselves, broken people. Our kids aren’t any better than him, but he sure is giving us a run for our money.
So this bully, we’ll call him Stan, has decided to tell my boy that his weight, shoes, humor, haircut, really everything about him - is unacceptable. We have wiped away our son’s tears, we’ve listened to his anger and we’ve prayed for wisdom from above.
Here’s the thing about empathy: when applied, it helps both parents and children stay away from drama.
When I’m focused on my son I’m not focused on wanting to find Stan at school and let him know how I feel about him. Instead of focusing on Stan and becoming angry (because let’s face it – Stan doesn’t care and he’ll probably always be this way) I should focus my energy on MY son and HIS feelings. By spending time assuring my boy that I hear him and that his feelings count; I’m creating a connection that will last beyond all the bullies we might encounter.
I’m proud of my son for sharing with us and listening to our suggestions for how to handle things. We’ve even started role playing to help prepare him for the way this kid says a side comment and then pretends to be innocent when adults are around. We’ve told him it’s okay to yell, cry and be angry at Stan – when he’s at home with us. We can handle it. When the emotions start pouring out we’re quick to warn our son about “hardened hearts” or a “loose tongue”. Our home should be the safe place for our kids – a place where they aren’t judged, but instead respected.
What our boy is feeling is real. It’s as real as anything I’m feeling toward Stan (pray for me). The difference between us comes with the age and experience I can pull on when I think about Stan. I have to teach my son to express and deal with his feelings in the appropriate and responsible way.
For each family that definition is different. Matt and I don’t have it figured out, but I am so glad our son comes to us and shares his struggles. If he opened up to us and we dismissed or discounted his feelings, I can almost guarantee he’d stop sharing or become even more dramatic in order to convince us that this issue is a reality for him.
The following steps won’t work for every situation or with every child, but it’s an overview of the 5 steps/parts involved in empathizing with our children and helping them learn to deal with the emotions we all encounter…
STEP #1: Require children to communicate with words (age is a factor here)…before you give them your undivided attention. (squeaky wheel syndrome is NOT allowed in healthy relationships!)
STEP #2: Truly listen without distractions…if you’re distracted they’ll turn up the drama to make sure you’re listening.
STEP #3: Help children name their emotions…Whether the are 2 or 12 we can look our kids in the eye and after hearing their scenario say to them, “that’s frustrating!” or “that hurts!”. When we give their response a name children know we get it and that we hear them
STEP #4: Help children express emotions appropriately…One of my favorite lines to say to my kids is, “You can be _____ (name the emotion) but you don’t get to be ____ (whatever behavior they’re displaying that isn’t acceptable)”. On more than one occasion I’ve said to my kids, “You can be angry, you can be tired, you can even be frustrated…but you don’t get to be disrespectful or nasty to people”.
STEP #5: If the same situations/emotions consistently appear, start making a plan for dealing with the cause instead of just focusing on the effect.
As adults we deal with so many issues and burdens. Sometimes it’s really tough to have any “extra” energy for our children’s emotions and feelings. God can give us that extra bit of compassion and patience, even on the days when we are completely exhausted. We know drama LOVES to try and take us over when we’re tired and weary. We have to protect ourselves so we can in turn help our children protect themselves.
Proverbs 4:23…Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Romans 12:15…Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
How do you empathize with your kids?
Do you find it easier to empathize with one child over another?
Share your stories and strategies below by leaving a comment – your story matters and can help others!
Any suggestions for dealing with Stan? I’d LOVE to hear them! :o)
You are amazing!