As parents, it is our job to teach our children empathy, by modeling empathetic behaviors. And while it is important to teach our kids empathy, it’s important to differentiate between immature and mature forms of empathy, so we can ensure we are shaping our kids to become emotionally mature individuals.
You might be scratching your head because the topic of mature versus immature empathy is not a prevalent discussion. I mean, empathy is empathy, right? Well, not so much. While there are different styles of empathy, there is most definitely a right and a wrong way to empathize with others. When you think about it, immature empathy might come from the right place, it is just delivered in the wrong way. Oftentimes, we continue with the same habits and methods our parents treated us with. However, it’s always a good time to break free from generational curses and do better than the previous generations.
Here are four immature styles of empathy, and one mature form. The first four are what we shouldn’t do and the last is what we should do.
Ignoring is what happens when we ignore the fact that our child is upset and only worry about their behavior. For example, when your child comes to you upset because their favorite toy is broken, and instead of soothing them, you immediately get onto them for breaking their toy.
Saving is what happens when instead of helping our children cope with their emotions, we try to save them from them. As an example, if your child is upset if instead of trying to teach them to deal with their emotions, you instead focus on ridding them of all negative emotions, this is referred to as saving. When your child comes to you because they are upset about a rule at school if instead of helping them to understand the rule you move them to a different school, you are teaching them that emotions should be avoided at all costs if they are difficult. The problem is, they never learn to handle their emotions.
A lot of us experienced this growing up. This is what happens when we punish our children for having negative emotions. An example of this is “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” or “Hush or I am going to put you in time out!” Ultimately, what this teaches them is that their emotions are bad and to repress them. Additionally, they too will shut people down for having emotions, because they will learn to empathize with punishment.
Dismissing is a form of emotional invalidation. When your child comes to you and is upset, if you say, “Oh, it’s not that bad!” you are dismissing their emotions. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but what you are doing is telling your child that their feelings don’t matter or that they are too sensitive and should harden up. Ultimately, this can shape your child to also empathize with others through dismissal.
Coaching is the only healthy way to empathize with your child. When you sit down with them and work to understand what they are going through, and listen, without judgment, you can change your child’s world. We are our kid’s emotional coaches. They need us to help them. When they come to us, no matter how frustrating they are acting because they are upset, and no matter how ‘silly’ their complaints may be, it is our job to listen and help them. When you do this, you are helping them to grow into an emotionally and empathetically sound person.