Imagine that you’re at work. Your boss asks you to do something extra, and he wants it to be ready by the end of the day. You mean to take care of it right away, but things start coming up throughout the course of the day and you forget. As soon as you get ready to go home, your boss comes to you and asks for the finished piece of work. Oh no, you completely forgot! You try explaining to your boss that things came up, things that couldn’t be helped.
He interrupts you. In a loud, angry voice he shouts, “I’m not interested in your excuses! What I’m interested in is you getting it done! What am I paying you for?!” As you open your moth, he says, “Save it,” and walks off to the elevator.
You finish gathering your things and leave the office. On the way home you meet a friend. You’re so upset that you find yourself telling her about what just happened.
Your friend tries to “help” you in eight different ways. And as this example from “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish asks, as you read each response, tune in to your immediate “gut” reaction:
“There’s no reason to be so upset. It’s foolish to feel that way. You’re probably just tired and blowing this whole thing out of proportion. Surely it’s not as bad as you make it out to be. Come on, smile…”
“Look, life is like that. Things don’t always turn out the way we want. You have to learn to take it in stride. In this world, nothing is perfect.”
“You know what I think you should do? Tomorrow morning go straight to your boss’s office and say, ‘Look, I was wrong.’ Then sit down and finish your work, and don’t get trapped by those little things that come up. And if you’re smart and you want to keep that job of yours, you better make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”
“What exactly did you have to do that could have possibly caused you to forget a special request from your boss? Didn’t you realize he’d be angry if you didn’t do it? Has this ever happened before? Why didn’t you follow him when he got mad and left so you could explain again?”
“I can understand your boss’s reaction. He’s probably under a lot of pressure. You’re lucky he doesn’t lose his temper more often.”
“Oh, you poor thing. That is terrible! I feel so awful for you, I could cry.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that the real reason you’re so upset by this is because your employer represents a father figure in your life? As a child you probably worried about not pleasing your father, and when your boss scolded you it brought back your early fears of rejection. Would you say that’s true?”
“Boy, that sounds like a rough experience. To be yelled at like that in front of those other people, especially after having been under so much pressure, must have been pretty hard to take!”
Okay, so what do you think? What was your “gut” reaction after reading each of the different types of responses your friend gave you? Did you leave your friend feeling better or worse? Heard or unheard? Like your friend had your back or not so much?
Maybe you’re thinking Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish were being a little extreme. But were they? Though the situation might be different, I can recall so many times when I’ve responded to my own kids in each and every one of these ways!
Fortunately, one of these responses is more helpful than the others. Whether you’re listening to your child tell you about how awful it felt to have to go in from recess today or how terrible it felt when their science teacher unwittingly singled them out when they called upon them in class or even just listening to a friend talk about their rough day at work, using an empathic response will always prove most helpful.
An empathic response demonstrates that you’re really trying to tune into the feelings of the other person. Kids (and adults) can usually help themselves if they have a listening ear and an empathic response. Kids don’t always need advice or pity, and they’re probably not going to be ready for you to defend the person that hurt their feelings when they first come to you after something as such has happened. And denying their feelings is going to affect them for the worse, whether it be in the short-term or long-term (or both).
Unfortunately, the language of empathy doesn’t come so naturally to us. Most of us grew up having our feelings denied, often unintentionally by well meaning people. As “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” delves into, to learn a new language of acceptance, we have to learn and practice its methods. It might not sound natural to you when you first start trying to use an empathic response, but keep with it… It’s well worth it.
More important than any words we do use is our attitude when we respond. “If our attitude is not one of compassion, then whatever we say will be experienced by the child as phony or manipulative. It’s when our words are infused with our real feelings of empathy that they speak directly to a child’s heart.”
Stay tuned in, I’ll be giving you some helpful tips on communicating with your children in future posts. And if you’re interested in learning more yourself, I highly recommend the book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. You can find a link here.