Empathy - Having It Oursleves
I was standing at the sink when the two year old came around the corner and asked for another cookie. I said no, he'd already had one. The tantrum ensued. He stomped and screeched, "I want another cookie!" After a few minutes without a response from me he just started saying, "I want sugar!"
It was annoying and I just wanted him to stop. Hadn't I just explained that he'd had one already? I mean, sheesh!
This, coming from a person who never eats just one cookie. I always want more. Moments before he came into the kitchen I polished off my stash of chocolate. If anyone should be able relate to his feelings, it's me. And yet somehow I found it laughable that he even asked for a second cookie. It made me wonder why I was so quick to judge his feelings. Perhaps because of the judgement I have about my own desire for second, third, fourth cookies.
Now, I'm not completely sure how to tell the difference between being regular annoyed at a kid or being annoyed because what's underneath is really self judgement but I think the strategy might be to narrate the scene. As we hear ourselves say aloud what's going on we might recognize ourselves in the story.
"You're so sad that you can't have another cookie. I really get that you want more."
There were no magic words to help him feel better because as Brene Brown says, "rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection." And the key to connection is empathy.
No, I wasn't going to give in and hand over a second cookie. But I could feel this two year old's feelings a bit. I could have some empathy for myself when I "want another cookie" and for him now, when he does.
So whenever possible I really try to feel along with a kiddo as he throws a fit. Remember what it felt like to be a kid. To be 3 and want so badly to go with the big kids on carnival rides even though you weren't tall enough. Or be 7 and beg to ride your new bike with the neighbors but the nanny said no. Or be 12 and feel deeply that the call your nanny made was unjust and if only she understood your side of the story she'd change her mind. Go there. Their tantrum might not stop, but your sincerity will come through to them and they'll feel heard and feel better.