Finding the PATH in Empathy

Parenting a toddler in my 40s is SUCH a great experience!

When you are younger, you think your job as a parent is to teach your children.

When you get older, you start to realize that the task is actually for you to open yourself up enough to let them teach you.

I don't believe that everyone needs to be a parent, but I know that being a parent CAN make you a better person.

Case in point.

My daughter had an outburst this morning caused exclusively by the positioning of the sock on her left foot and it took about 7 minutes for her to get back on level emotional ground. 20 years ago I would have tried to reason with her and when that didn't work, to discipline her.

Now I look at the same situation as an exercise in empathy training for both of us.

My responsibility as a parent is to assess the situation from her perspective, as well as mine, before responding.

She keeps trying to get the sock on her foot correctly, but she lacks the coordination to do what she knows needs to be done. This by itself is not really much of a problem until you realize that since she has been awake this morning, this is the 12th situation that she has tried to do what she knows to be right only to be met with failure and she hasn't even made it to the breakfast table yet!

The people at Lego Duplo made a GREAT 60 second video about having empathy for our adorable tiny sources of frustration and anxiety.

Check it out.

If I had found a rip on my favorite pants, dropped my toothbrush in the toilet, spilled my coffee, and lost my keys all within the span of 20 minutes this morning, of course I would shout, scream, and maybe even throw something across the room when it all got to be too much. Last night I noticed something wonderful. My daughter has started to say, "I'm sorry" whenever she notices that she has hurt me in some way.When she was climbing out of my lap and suddenly and violently planted her sharp little elbow deep into my left boob and I cried out, "ouch" she instantly stopped, looked into my eyes and said very sincerely, "Sorry, Mommy." When she took something I was using right out of my hand and I said, "hey" she stopped, looked at me and said, "sorry, Mommy" before giving it right back.I realized that she did this, not because I had told her to, but because I had started making it a point to do it to her.

As parents, we assume a lot, and we barge through our children's lives like a well meaning bull in a china shop. So it's easy to dismiss the truth when you treat your child in a way that you wouldn't want them to behave. Our children react in ways that very clearly let us know that they don't appreciate something we've done. It's not hard for us to simply acknowledge how they feel and validate their emotions' So when my little girl shrieks because I'm doing something FOR her instead of letting her try to do it herself, I've started apologizing and acknowledging that I was not thinking about her feelings when I acted.And now she is doing the same for me, and I have to tell you, IT FEELS GREAT! I've really noticed a change in how much easier it is to do a great voice over recording now too.Using more empathy in my day to day life and having empathy shown to me by someone so inexperienced at emotional recognition is SUCH a game changer! I can spend less time in the recording studio trying to "get the right feel" if I can actually feel what's going on in the script as soon as I read it. I can only imagine that the empathetic approach would be a huge benefit in just about any profession from sales to service to CEO. I take this empathetic approach with my daughter by default, because I love her; but doesn't my neighbor, the guy who serves me my hamburger, and the woman in front of me in line at the store deserve the same courtesy?I mean, I would absolutely LOVE it if every time I did something I'm not proud of, the people around me first took a moment to consider my situation, motivation, and reasoning that lead me to that action or decision before passing judgement! My toddler is teaching me how to be a better person almost every single minute I'm around her. It's my responsibility as a parent, and just as a person in general, to listen to the lessons as they are presented and hopefully take them to heart.

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Written by Ripley Johnson