Adults in the child's life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way.
Death is often a difficult topic to discuss. It’s even more challenging to consider how you can help a child through the death of a parent. No matter what age, the death of a parent shifts your foundation. Therefore, it’s even more critical to find ways to support and help a child grieving the death of a parent.
Parents provide safety and security for their children. After a parent dies, the child’s needs may vary according to their age, maturity, and personality. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. These children have unique needs that should be met.
Here are 6 things you can do to help a child who is grieving the death of a parent:
1. Be aware of your own grief and emotions.
It’s not easy to help a child through grief if you don’t acknowledge and work through your own. Grief is the process through which you deal with a loss. In this case, a friend or loved one died and left a child or children behind. Recognizing this allows you to process your grief so you don’t unintentionally make this loss only about you.
2. Be careful how you communicate with the child.
Because people tend to be uncomfortable talking about death, they often use well-intentioned phrases that do more harm than good. Sayings like:
“They are in a better place.”
“They just went to sleep.”
“One day, you will get over this.”
While you may mean well, think carefully about saying something just to say something. You may even need to listen more than you talk.
3. Be prepared for the child to express a variety of behaviors.
Children can display so many emotions after their parent dies, including fear, sadness, or anger. They may experience separation anxiety when away from the surviving parent or caregivers. Additionally, they may experience the following regressive behaviors, including using baby talk, bedwetting, or waking in the middle of the night. Stomachaches may become common complaints. Eating habits may change also. It’s essential to be aware of the frequency and intensity of any behavioral changes.
4. Be age-appropriately honest with them.
Children often have questions after the death of a parent. How did it happen? Is it gonna happen to you? Is it gonna happen to them? First, talk with their surviving parent to find out what they shared with the child. That can prepare you to answer questions within the framework they’ve established. Honesty is vital. Your honest answers help rebuild trust and security. In your desire to help, consistency and reliability are essential, too. You want to under-promise and over-deliver rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Do everything you can to follow through with what you say you will do.
5. Be award that grief is an ongoing process.
Many people come around in the immediate aftermath. However, the kids will need you for the long haul. The hard truth is that a child never gets over the death of a parent or stops grieving their loss, though the experience of grief may morph over time. Kids may seem to bounce back from the loss. As a result, we want to believe that children are resilient and won’t be affected long-term. As comforting as this might sound, unfortunately, it’s not true. The intensity may lessen over time, but the parent they lost won’t be there for life milestones (i.e., Birthdays, Holidays, Proms, Graduations, Weddings).
6. Be proactive in helping the child find ways to remember their parent.
Some people think that remembering a parent who died causes children pain. Attempting to minimize the pain, people often decide to remove photos or rarely mention or discuss the parent. On the contrary, remembering helps with the grieving process. Memories give a child a picture of who their parent was, what they liked, and how they lived.
Losing a parent can be one of the most challenging things a child (or even an adult) can experience. The adults in the child’s life are essential to help them grieve in a healthy way. As you journey with them, be a listening ear, a safe place to land, and a consistent presence in their lives.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/jordan-whitt-KQCXf_zvdaU-unsplash-1-scaled-e1619560857668.jpg495899Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-04-27 18:01:102021-05-11 10:49:376 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent
At its most ideal, the grieving process leads to growth.
Nobody likes grief. Or, at least I haven’t met anyone yet who does. Maybe it’s because we know grief is the process someone goes through to work through any kind of loss. And no one likes to lose things or people they love.
Unfortunately, every one of us will go through it. And if you already have, chances are you will again. I don’t mean to be a downer. It’s just that life is full of losses, whether it’s a job, the end of a relationship, a kid leaving for college, or the death of someone you love. But, there is hope.
Fact is, grief is necessary. It’s what allows us to walk through all the emotions that come with a loss and continue to be healthy individuals. It’s painful, uncomfortable, sometimes dreadful. But in the long run, it does what it’s supposed to do: It helps you work through the loss.
Here are some things you need to know about grief to understand this process better.
1. Grief runs a course, but it’s not the same for everyone.
No one grieves in the same way. There are no predictable steps or stages. In general, the shock and emotions that come with grief should move from more intense and frequent to less over time. But the pace can vary from person to person.
2. When a loss first happens, presence is the best support.
You may know what it’s like to feel the shock of a significant loss. You often can’t think straight. Things people say go in one ear and out the other. I can’t remember a single thing anyone said to me at my dad’s funeral; I put on a happy face, but my brain was a fog. However, I do remember who was there at my side. Presence is a strong source of support.
3. Some people have a more complicated reaction to a loss.
The researchers call it complicated grief. It’s when strong grief responses – those intense emotions, the effects of shock – persist over a long time without letting up. More problematic issues can arise from this, like depression or a deep sense of loneliness. Lots of factors play into why this happens. A professional therapist or a grief support group can help a great deal with complicated grief.
4. Emotional health before a loss can determine the grief process.
Research gives a strong indication that the more emotionally healthy you are, the less likely you are to experience complicated grief. Those prone to high anxiety, depression, loneliness, or unresolved relational issues often have a more challenging time with a loss. Staying emotionally healthy and being intentional with self-care is an excellent preventative measure for when loss hits.
5. Grief may not go away.
What I mean is, years down the road, something may spark a memory of who or what you lost, causing an emotional response. This is normal and healthy. Don’t judge it or yourself negatively. It’s simply part of the process.
6. Grief changes a person, and that can be a good thing.
Going through grief usually causes you to consider your perspectives on life and death, your values, and what you put meaning behind. It clarifies what’s important and prompts different behavior on the other side of the loss. At its most ideal, grief leads to growth.
You may be working through grief at the moment or know someone who is. It’s been helpful for me to remember that there is hope in grief. You can recover from a loss. The shock and pain aren’t forever. And even though things may never go back to “normal,” life will function again as you grow from your grief.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/cristian-newman-Zi8-E3qJ_RM-unsplash-scaled-e1619560610957.jpg256600Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-04-27 17:56:592021-07-07 12:39:226 Things You Need to Know About Grief
Married, yet hiding from your spouse. Such is life when you don’t feel emotionally safe in your marriage. There are parts of you, your personality, dreams, feelings, or thoughts, locked inside, unavailable to your spouse. Exposing them puts you at risk for rejection, criticism, or neglect. You don’t wanna live like this anymore. You want the freedom to be your whole self – vulnerable, imperfect, flawed, and all.
So what do you do?
There are two people to look at: you and your spouse. Let’s start with the easy person to look at first – you. (I know, it’s easier to look at your spouse, but you know you. You’ve been with you all your life.)
Sometimes we have our own personal barriers to being emotionally safe with others, even in marriage.
Traumatic event(s) in our past
The false belief that you and your spouse should always agree
Personal control issues
Past relationship experiences
Without understanding how your past experiences and current mindset may affect your ability to be totally open with someone, these barriers can hold you captive. They can cause you to go into “self-protective mode” anytime you feel challenged or feel vulnerable.
Ask yourself what you may be fearful of.
Talk to a friend or possibly a professional counselor.
Ask your spouse for help.
Be honest with yourself and forgive yourself.
Speak the truth about you to yourself. Your past doesn’t have to determine your future or define you.
Processing what holds you back emotionally can strip the past and any insecurities or control issues of their power to sabotage your relationship.
Talk to Your Spouse
Now let’s look at the second person in this equation – your spouse. When they aren’t being emotionally safe for you, what do you do?
1. Name it.
Be aware of what you feel makes it unsafe. Do you feel talked down to, dismissed, inferior, etc.? It might be worth writing your feelings down before you talk.
2. Create an opportunity to talk.
Set aside a non-threatening time to discuss with your spouse. Without attacking or accusing (because you want to be an emotionally safe person, too), ask…
“What does emotional safety in our marriage mean to you?” Obviously, this may not be something your spouse has thought much about. Still, it’s a worthwhile conversation to have. A good follow up question is,
“What causes you to feel emotionally unsafe?” After your spouse shares, share your answers to those questions and go from there.
“What makes you feel safest, most free to be yourself, and willing to be totally transparent or vulnerable?”
“What makes you shut down and go into protection mode?
Listening to each other can help you both understand how to create a safe environment.
Affirm what you like about each other. Remind yourselves why you wanted to marry each other. Take turns sharing the strengths each brings to the marriage. Knowing that your spouse likes you for you increases emotional safety.
You’ve probably heard the golden rule: “Do to others as you’d have them do to you.” It’s also true in marriage. Sometimes others are emotionally unsafe because they need to self-protect. Listen to your spouse. Foster an environment where they can be vulnerable and their full selves.
This is not an issue you’ll address only once. (If so, consider yourself one of the lucky ones.) Come up with code words to communicate when your spouse is doing something to make you feel unsafe. Freely acknowledge if you’re struggling because of your own issues. (Full disclosure:I do this with my wife. Sometimes I can go into conflict-prevention, self-protection mode, where I don’t share my full thoughts and beliefs because I know my spouse will disagree. That’s a “me” issue, not a spouse issue. Acknowledging it helps me name it and work through it.)
Not every spouse will embrace talking about being emotionally safe. At times, contacting a marriage counselor is the best route. If and when you talk about it, be prepared for the rewards of working through marriage challenges; it will build trust, resiliency, and deep commitment. Who doesn’t want that for their marriage?
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/marc-a-sporys-wHaQ4XJ9SgY-unsplash-1-scaled.jpg8922048Reggie Madisonhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngReggie Madison2021-04-20 13:31:122021-04-30 15:05:51What to Do When You Don’t Feel Emotionally Safe in Your Marriage
You can help them express themselves in healthy ways.
Eight years ago, my wife and I embarked on a journey. A journey with no map, no guidebook, and filled with mystery and surprise. A journey of blazing our own trails. You may know this journey… it’s called parenting.
Now, here we are with two curious, fun-loving adventurers, one 8 and one 5. Both of them are full of life and laughter and a full range of emotions. This stage of parenting brings a new element: navigating those emotions. The dirty diapers and potty training are gone; we live in a world of attitudes. Any other elementary-age parents out there feel me? I wasn’t ready for this.
One of the more challenging emotions to address has been anger. How do I help my child navigate being angry? How do I help them express their anger? Do I want them to be angry?
Before I go further, let me say this slowly and clearly: Anger is normal. There is nothing wrong with being angry. It’s what we do with anger that matters. Anger often reveals our passions and sense of justice. We just can’t let it control us. [Read Why Anger Isn’t Good or Bad for more on this]
Now that we’ve got that clear, here are four ways you can help your child deal with anger:
Teach them about their feelings.
Our kids are constantly learning. From day one, they are discovering a new world with new sights and sounds. Feelings and emotions are no different. They learn happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and joy. Our job as parents is to help them learn these emotions and name them. They may not know how to express what they feel, but we can give them the words.
When they’re mad or upset, help them investigate why they feel that way. As you both discover the expressions of their emotions, name them. Give them words like sad, mad, happy, disappointed, maybe even hangry (my kids get angry).
Model how to handle anger in a healthy way.
Kids are sponges. They watch and listen. You may have heard it said, “More is caught than taught.” That’s parenting gold right there. Researchers have found that much of what we learn comes through social interactions. This is called the social learning theory.
What it means is, how you handle anger directly influences how your child handles it.
If someone cuts me off in traffic, I get mad. Just being real. I often don’t want to say nice things about said person. (Confession is good for the soul; glad I got that out there.) I’m conscious of this in myself, so when it happens and my kids see me mad, I tell them that I’m frustrated and why. And I own my actions or feelings.
It’s healthy for us to express what makes us angry so our kids can learn how to handle the same emotions. Now, we don’t have to express all of our frustrations to them. There are plenty of adult problems that our kids need to be protected from. But we can define some of our frustrations, how they make us feel, and why.
They are watching and listening anyway, so take the opportunity to teach.
Help them communicate their feelings.
When we help our child name their emotions, we are helping them communicate what is going on inside. If my kids are angry, I don’t want them to throw a tantrum or become overly upset because things didn’t go their way. I want them to be able to express what they’re feeling and act appropriately. This goes back to modeling. Remember, they’re watching.
Make a plan to handle anger.
Anger is normal, but what we do with anger matters. If you want to help your child manage their anger, it might be a good idea to make a plan before they get angry. Trying to make a plan while they’re dealing with the emotion won’t work. Here are some thoughts on what could be part of your plan:
Engage in a calming activity (coloring, reading, taking a walk).
Take a “time in.” When they feel frustrated, take a few minutes to calm down. Reflect on what they think or feel and calm down before speaking or doing something. Remember, this isn’t a punishment.
Take deep breaths or count to 10.
Once they have calmed down, talk through the situation and their responses. Acknowledge and applaud them for handling the situation. It’s important to recognize what goes well. A wise man once told me, “What gets recognized gets repeated.”
It’s healthy for children (and adults) to express and feel their emotions. It’s our job to teach them to do this in a healthy way.
If you feel your child’s anger is increasing despite your best efforts, consult their pediatrician. We want to do everything in our power to help our children be successful and develop into extraordinary adults.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/pexels-ketut-subiyanto-4546116-scaled-e1618930313120.jpg387900Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-04-20 10:52:082021-04-28 10:17:504 Ways to Help Your Child Deal With Anger
Create the connection you crave in your closest relationships.
What is emotional safety?
Emotional safety. Does that sound like a lofty concept? Let’s break it down. Emotional is defined as relating to one’s feelings. Safety means keeping yourself or others free from harm. So, put them together, and what does emotional safety mean? When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to others freely being themselves. Recent neurobiology research by Dr. Stephen Porges reveals that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of connection in a relationship.
Here are some things to know about emotional safety.
Emotional safety comes from within. It starts with you. It consists of identifying your feelings and being able to feel them.
Emotional safety means revealing your true self to another person. It is expressing who you are, including your hurts, fears, and dreams. It’s expressing yourself authentically, sharing dissatisfaction, fears, and insecurities, and having a conversation without it blowing up into an argument. It’s sharing without fear of shaming, yelling, or rejection.
We all need at least one person with whom we can be ourselves.
Ideally, marriage is a safe space for you and your spouse to reveal your true selves. Parenthood allows you to create a safe environment for your children to grow and learn who they are as individuals. And friendship is a space where you can be the most real you.
Why does emotional safety matter?
Emotional safety is essential in any relationship, whether romantic, family, friends, or co-workers.
When we trust that someone else can see, hear, and understand us, we relax more with them. We open up about who we are and feel connected. Emotional safety is reciprocal. When we are safe for someone else, we deepen our relationship.
When you feel emotionally safe, you are more likely to be your best self and contribute to your greatest ability. You are free to dream, collaborate, create, share, and express yourself. When we open up and do this in a safe environment, we invite others to do the same.
In relationships, we need to feel safe before we can be vulnerable. Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Safety creates a foundation for intimacy and closeness.
How do you build & keep emotional safety?
Now, we have a good idea of what emotional safety is. We can examine our relationships and see where it exists. But, how do we build it if it doesn’t exist?
The foundation is trust. We can’t feel safe with someone if we don’t trust them. Building emotional safety requires building and keeping trust. Trust is a two-way street. It’s built with honesty, credibility, communication, and authenticity.
Another important piece of emotional safety is recognizing what not to do in relationships. We may not be aware of the subtle ways we cause harm with sarcasm, blaming, or shaming others. Instead, traits like respect, kindness, and appreciation foster safety.
Here are some actions you can take to maintain emotional safety:
Be consistent. Be there for your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker. When you are consistently present, others see you as reliable and trustworthy.
Listen actively. Listen to learn, not to respond. I often struggle with this. We have to slow down and listen.
Be curious, not judgmental. Be interested in what the other person is interested in. Ask questions.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Feel what they feel and genuinely care about who they are and what they believe.
What happens if emotional safety isn’t there?
A lack of emotional safety leads to disconnection. Disconnection is a massive threat to a relationship. When we feel disconnected, we begin to feel lonely and distant, and the relationship can start to crumble.
If you feel disconnected from someone, try to find out what’s going on. It could be you. It could be them. If you can, talk about it and make a plan to rebuild your connection.
Take steps today to create emotional safety in at least one of your relationships. Start by seeing if you’re in tune with your own emotions. If you are, make sure you’re maintaining it well. We all need emotional safety in our relationships.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pexels-nappy-936048-e1617219280440.jpg375900Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2021-03-31 15:34:512021-04-08 10:26:534 Things to Know About Emotional Safety
I was 5 and mad at my mom. I forget why. But I do remember I was packing my bags and hitting the road. In a rockstar parenting move, my unshakable mother began packing sandwiches for me to take on my run-away trip.
“Whhattt?” you may scream. “How could she?? That’s so… mean… insensitive… emotionally unsafe!”
Emotionally Safe. What does that even mean, anyway?
For some, it means parenting so that their kids never think badly of them and try to run away. (Spoiler alert: That’s impossible.)
For others, it means they try to never be angry — even when their kid draws dinosaurs on the white couch with permanent markers. (Honestly, if you have children — why have white furniture??)
So let me offer you a working definition:
Emotional safety means parenting in a way that your child feels safe enough to be themselves.
That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Kids who are safe to be themselves may be, well, quirky. They’re encouraged to explore who they are, to formulate their world. They dress themselves (sometimes weirdly). They use their imagination (again, often weird). They’re on the road to discovering their personality, likes and dislikes, sense of humor, fashion, and overall mojo.
Now, emotional safety doesn’t mean parents don’t set boundaries for their child. And it doesn’t mean kids may not experience sadness, or disappointment, or anxiety. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never be angry or hurt by them, or not pack sandwiches when they want to run away. That’s just real life.
So how can you go about helping your kids feel emotionally safe?
Research can give us a little insight into this. (Hang with me here — I promise it won’t be a term paper.)
Psychologist Don Catherall says a person (like your child) needs two things to feel emotionally safe with someone (like you, the parent):
One: To feel a healthy sense of connection to the person.
And two: To develop a healthy sense of security in themselves.
In other words, your child needs to feel close to you and (at least to be developing the skills) to feel good about themselves.
This means developing an appropriately close relationship with your child while giving them opportunities to build self-confidence. Ironically, building self-confidence often involves doing things without you. Notice the balance?
Here’s another way to look at it:
Some researchers say the healthiest families strike a balance with a couple of tensions:
1. Constant over-attachment versus total disconnection.
The need to feel overly-involved in every single aspect of their child’s life can quickly become what researchers call “enmeshment.” Parents can’t separate their child’s emotions from their own. Boundaries are unclear. It’s a false sense of emotional safety which, in reality, focuses on the parent’s unhealthy need to be connected or overprotective. Disconnection is the polar opposite, of course. Neither extreme fosters real emotional safety.
2. A rigid, overly-structured family environment versus one that is absolutely chaotic without rules or boundaries.
Too many parents buckle under the need for their kids to like them. As a result, they compromise rules and structure in an attempt to offer emotional safety. On the flip side, others go overboard with stringent rules, consequences, and schedules. Unfortunately, either extreme tends to have the opposite outcome.
The main point: Emotionally safe kids thrive when there’s a balance.
Want to be an emotionally safe parent?
Be the parent, not the friend. Stay connected, but don’t smother. Build confidence in your child. Challenge them to go beyond what they think they’re able to do. Set boundaries. Own your emotions and let them experience theirs.
Fortunately, my 5-year-old self didn’t make it past the mailbox with my bologna sandwiches. And my mom never faltered with her parenting techniques, even if I wasn’t happy about it. She was savvy enough to understand that it was okay for me to be upset. She didn’t need to overreact, and I would eventually make my way back, knowing a little more about my weird self, emotionally safe and all.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/tim-mossholder-FIdkkBWmF7Y-unsplash-e1617038296336.jpg428900Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-03-29 13:18:282021-03-30 09:45:05How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent
You want to be your spouse’s hero? Their most trusted confidant? The one who supports them and helps them flourish? The one they share their wildest, most audacious dreams with? None of it happens if you aren’t the emotionally safe person your spouse needs. When you’re emotionally safe, you’ve removed yourself as a barrier to your spouse freely being themselves. With you, they feel safe to be transparent, vulnerable, authentic, flawed, and emotional. They’re free to be themselves.
Side note: Just because you’re emotionally safe doesn’t mean they will always feel safe. Your spouse may have their own barriers to work through. You can’t control that. But the safer you are, the more space and freedom your partner will have to clearly see themselves and even grow through their experiences. You’ll be the hero who stuck by them through their imperfections, missteps, and all.
How do you become that emotionally safe spouse your partner needs?
Be secure within yourself.
Start with loving and accepting yourself. When you feel comfortable in your skin, you’re more likely to be emotionally vulnerable.
Show genuine curiosity about your spouse.
You’re in it to learn. You can talk to your spouse as if you know them and you know all the answers… or you can try to learn more about their thought process, how they see things and understand them better. Because you’ll never stop learning about one another.
Express honesty with humility.
Being emotionally safe doesn’t mean you don’t express your true thoughts, even when they are different or you disagree. You just express your thoughts with the caveat that you’re on the same team. You share with mutual respect and a desire for you to be on one page, not to prove that you’re right.
Ask, “What makes you feel emotionally safe with me?”
What makes your spouse feel most comfortable at being their whole self with you may differ from others. The fact that you asked with the desire to know should mean you’re willing to hear their whole heart. Don’t defend yourself. Just listen to understand.
Try making sure that every negative interaction with your spouse is balanced by five positive interactions. Get in the habit of being generous with your spouse just because. Be aware of how you speak to your spouse. Is your tone one of criticism and contempt, or one of kindness and love? An emotionally unsafe person will communicate using a tone that lacks love and gentleness.
You don’t have to be talking about serious topics to be inviting. Look forward to being with your spouse after work. Create opportunities to hear their heart and dream together. Remind them of the things you admire and appreciate about them. Invite them to be themselves. And show them that you love who they are.
Emotional safety is a process that builds.
Being an emotionally safe spouse doesn’t guarantee there won’t be disagreements or that you won’t (at times) cause emotional pain to each other. In fact, being emotionally safe may increase your willingness to deal with those very things.
You’re different people with your own thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Sometimes those differences clash, and one of you will say or do something hurtful. Suppose either person in your relationship has been perpetually unsafe. In that case, it may take time to reap the benefits of the newfound emotional safety. And that’s ok.
Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.” Imagine how your spouse will feel when you are being the emotionally safe spouse that encourages vulnerability, transparency, and beyond.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/pexels-william-fortunato-6392957-1-scaled.jpg7962048Reggie Madisonhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngReggie Madison2021-03-26 13:05:582021-04-28 12:11:48How to Be An Emotionally Safe Spouse
Before you had children, you may have seen the TV show, Kids Say the Darndest Things. If so, you might have thought your child would NEVER say anything like that. Then it happened. Perhaps you were horrified as you watched your sweet baby snatch a toy from a friend and scream, “MINE!” Or while pushing them in the cart at the grocery store, your toddler asked in their loudest voice, “Why does that man have BIG ears?” Embarrassed that everyone around might think you raised a little monster, you were probably wishing the floor would open up and swallow you whole.
So how do you teach your young child to be empathetic?
These 5 building blocks of empathy can set you both up for success.
1. Model empathy for them.
Empathy is the ability to imagine how someone else feels in a particular situation and respond with care. This is a tricky skill to develop, even for adults. Your child learns empathy from how they watch you model it to those around you. How you respond is often the most powerful teaching method because empathy is more caught than taught. One of the best places to start is by showing empathy for your child. Instead of seeing their behavior as being difficult, empathize with what they are feeling. (Even in the middle of a meltdown!)
2. Be realistic in your expectations. (It’s just a phase.)
Don’t worry; this is a normal phase. Laying a foundation for your child to be empathetic towards people is a good thing. However, it can be challenging during this particular developmental stage. Your 3 to 5-year-old is in the middle of what Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget called the preoperational stage. This stage’s hallmark is selfish thinking, meaning it’s not easy for them to see things from anyone else’s perspective.
Additionally, you may notice their favorite words are Me, Mine, or “I can do it MYSELF.” All of these behaviors are developmentally appropriate. At this stage, children are like reporters who report on what they see and experience without filters.
Since they like to report, ask questions to help them identify their own feelings and others’ feelings in the process.
3. Celebrate them when they show empathy.
When you see your child correctly identifying emotions, praise them. They may even ask, “Are you sad?” If you are, it’s ok to acknowledge your sadness. You can use that as a teachable moment to help them recognize and name emotions correctly. They’ll learn that expressing a variety of emotions is ok. (Here’s a great list of feeling words to get you started.)
4. Do things to nurture empathy.
It may be difficult to actively volunteer together at this age, but it’s easy to make treats or care bags (or something else) to show people they matter. Hand them out with your child to the homeless or someone who needs a pick-me-up as you drive through your community. The bag can include various items such as gift cards to restaurants, hand sanitizer, band-aids, snack bar, a small bottle of water, etc.
5. Take time to develop empathy. It’s a process.
Empathy is developed over time, but everyday moments are teachable ones. Remember, this skill grows and expands as your child grows. They won’t be perfect at showing empathy, especially at this age. Honestly, it may be difficult to be empathetic all the time. This is a learning process that goes with your child into their teen years and beyond.
It’s hard for parents not to feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of teaching your little one so many things to help them become a productive member of society. Those things may include how to walk, how to talk, and ways to expand their vocabulary. And that’s in the first year!
Ok, stop and take a deep breath.
Raising an empathetic child is a process that starts with your example; it’s the primary way you teach them how to understand others and treat them with kindness. They’re watching you. Just remember: more things are caught by our kids than are taught by us. You can do this.
Read other blogs to help you on your journey here:
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/pexels-anete-lusina-5240500-scaled-e1614347987459.jpg398900Gena Ellishttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngGena Ellis2021-02-26 09:00:032021-03-09 08:42:47How to Teach Your Child to Be Empathetic