Updated: May 31
During the past few years, kids and teens have faced new and unique stressors in addition to the regular stress of growing up. You may have noticed they are withdrawing, acting out or hesitant to communicate. When it comes to changing and bettering your relationship with your kids, empathy is an extremely powerful tool. While we may see some people are more empathetic than others, empathy is a skill that can absolutely be learned and fostered within our relationships.
Here are 5 empathy-based strategies you can use to connect with your kids on a deeper level and be better equipped to support them.
1. Meet them where they are emotionally:
When offering anyone support, it is important to meet them where they are emotionally. This means allowing them to feel what they are feeling and to work through whatever stage of processing these feelings they are in without putting expecting them to feel differently. When supporting your kids, this will help release the pressure they may feel to just be “ok”. It is important not to fall into toxic positivity. This means trying to silver line things, looking immediately at the positive and discounting that something may be going on that is negative or painful. By trying to jump right to the bright side, we deny them the opportunity to experience and process their difficult emotions.
2. Validate their feelings:
Once we are in the same emotional space, it is important to validate those emotions. This means expressing that we understand their emotions are valid and that they are allowed to feel them. Giving them permission to experience whatever they are experiencing builds trust and helps them start processing their feelings. It is crucial to understand that these emotions are real. Even if the logic escapes us or we cannot relate to what they are going through, the situation is very real to them, as are the emotions prompted by it. They are allowed to experience emotions that are confusing, painful, difficult, etc.
3. Open-ended questions:
To start processing the emotions and exploring why they have come up, open-ended questions are the best tool. Ask questions that cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Ask questions that require your kid to elaborate or explain. However, avoid using “why” questions as this can feel judgmental and like we are placing blame. These questions can help us dig deeper and figure out what emotions specifically are coming up and what triggered them.
4. Support over solution:
If this is the first time you are approaching your kid about this, focus on support over solution. It is not time to solve the issue, it is time to listen. Before we can be in an emotional space where troubleshooting and problem solving is accessible to them, they have to process their emotions and feel supported, validated and heard. Try to avoid jumping to conclusions and trying to find the fix. Focus on being there, truly listening and offering a safe space.
5. Remain non-judgemental:
The four tools listed above only work if we remain non-judgemental. When supporting your kid, do not react with shock, judgment or blame. Aim to understand the situation and the feelings it prompted before making a decision on how you feel about it and how you want to handle it. The more you can abstain from passing judgment, the more you can create a safe space for your kid and make sure they share as much as possible. Giving them the opportunity to open up is the first step to figuring out how to make the situation better.
Kids and teens experience a lot of emotions. They also often experience them more strongly than adults. At this age, they are figuring out their self-concept, their place amongst their peers, and learning how to interact with their world and the people in it. This can be confusing and overwhelming. These 5 tools will help you work on supporting your kid with empathy and create a safer space for them to share with you. The more they are willing to share the more you can offer them support and help them overcome the challenges they are facing.
It can be difficult to put ourselves back in the shoes of kid or a teen but the more we can find emotions inside of us that can relate to what they are experiencing, the more we can connect. And empathy is at the core of this connection.
If you'd like to dig deeper into these skills and build your toolkit for supporting and communicating with your teens, please follow this link for more information about a comprehensive online master class I offer: https://classes.valerybrosseau.com/