Empathy – it all begins at home


Empathy – it all begins at home

I watched with great interest recently as a family was doing a photoshoot of their child on the beach. It was a beautiful, warm Spring day. She must have been around 6 months, give or take. They brought her to the beach and wanted to catch the perfect shot – the one where she is smiling with a glorious background of the ocean. Sounds perfect, right? But in her mind, another agenda was brewing. I suspect it must have been her first (or one of it) trip to the ocean. Everytime her toes touched the sand, she cringed. I remember my son having the same reaction. The parents then hauled out a range of toys to get her to smile and forget about her own discomfort. They were focused on the perfect shot and came prepared with accessories. She on the other hand was not liking any of this. In her mind, she was processing the horrible sensation of the sand between her toes and not having any of it. What followed were tears and one of many emotional outbursts.

There are so many messages we communicate to our children when we use empathy in a moment like that. And these moments slip by us if we don’t notice it, are living in our own heads as the parent/caregiver or are in ‘operational mode’. Allow me to elaborate:

  • Firstly, for her as a woman, we begin to teach boundaries and saying no. That it’s ok for her to dislike something and that she doesn’t need to be focused on pleasing others over herself.
  • Secondly, we can also begin to teach empathy at this stage. By picking her up and assuring her by talking to her gently that maybe she doesn’t like the sand and that her tears are normal, we begin to teach empathy. Now, you may be thinking “but she can’t understand me yet Celeste”. And I agree that she might not be able to process the words. But she can FEEL your empathy. And you, as the parent, are learning to give empathy. You’re both growing into empathy. One the giver, the other the receiver. Isn’t that beautiful? Practice this enough so that when she can understand the words you’re using, you’re both comfortable with empathy.
  • Lastly, we provide our children with psychological safety when we do that. Stop the photoshoot if necessary. If she doesn’t feel safe, we don’t proceed. It’s about her agenda over yours, as simple yet powerful as that.

So today, examine your day and spot the opportunities to show up differently in terms of your parenting approach and strategy with your children. Remember, there are always multiple lessons we teach in the way we respond.

Go on, find those rare moments and trust yourself. Trust your intuitions and don’t be afraid to be different in the way you parent. My husband and I have been parenting this way for nearly 11 years now. We’ve developed such comfort with our approach because we recognise that it’s about raising happy and fulfilled children. In our case, it’s also an opportunity to teach our boys to connect with their emotions as a young age. More about THAT topic in another blog post. Conscious parenting rocks! And it begins in those ‘small’ moments that become the big moments.

Thought-provoking questions:

• What do you think about conscious parenting?
• How could you explore this approach in your own family?
• Where have you tried this already and seen results?

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