Faber and Mazlish list eight possible responses one could give whenever someone else shares with you something they are upset about.
- Denial of feelings ("It's not that bad." "You're overreacting." )
- Philosophize ("These things happen." "The world's not perfect.")
- Advice ("Here's what you need to do.")
- Interrogation ("Why didn't you..." "How come you...")
- Defense of the Other Person/Opposing View
- Pity ("Oh, poor thing!")
- Amateur Psychoanalysis ("The REAL reason you are so upset is...")
- Empathy ("Boy, that sounds rough. It must have been hard to take." Or for toddlers: "That makes you MAD, MAD, MAD!")
As I've grown an matured as a person and a parent, I have recognized a need to avoid strategy #1.
But as I read through the sample responses, I began to see that I often use strategies two through five. And, while those things may have their place in a follow-up conversation, an initial response of empathy serves to calm your conversational partner down enough that they can engage in a useful conversation or think the situation through themselves.
As I tried to craft empathic responses to some of Faber and Mazlish's sample statements, I found that it doesn't come all that naturally. They helpfully provide four tips for empathic listening/responding:
- Listen with full attention (not with one ear cocked for the tv, for example)
- Acknowledge them and encourage them to keep talking with short responses ("Hmmm." "Oh." "I see.")
- Give the feelings a name. ("Sounds like you were angry.")
- Give them their wishes in fantasy. ("I wish I had a magic wand to make that happen.")
Said with a sincere attitude of compassion and caring, these strategies used in combination or singly can help smooth communication between kids and adults and make the kids feel heard and understood.
As parents, we can also be the emotional coach for our kids, teaching them how to cope well with the big feelings which can be so often overwhelming to them.