Empathy First

Maya Angelou said “When you are gone, people wont remember what you said, nor what you did but they will remember how you made them feel.”

When we empathize with people, validate their feelings, listen to their stories, care to ask how they are really doing, make time for them we make them feel good. We meet their need to feel important, significant, that they matter, that they are worth it.

One of my sons, when 13-16 yrs old, used to often stick his head into my room after school to rattle off stories of how (in his eyes) he was treated unfairly by teach. As he showed his face, I would immediately put down my book and give him my full attention. All I used to respond with was, “hmmm, wow, sounds like that must have been annoying for you” or “ Yes, I think I would feel frustrated too if that was me”.  He would actually tell me later in the day that he felt much better and had clearly let the incident go.

We are emotional beings….energy in motion. We are meant to express ourselves, not suppress emotions. We create havoc with ourselves and others when we discourage or disapprove of others expressing their feelings. Suppressed and repressed emotions literally clog up our thought processes.  I know people whose memory, focus, rational thought and comprehension have been severely compromised by them not seeking proper counseling after trauma.

We must provide a safe space for our children to express their feelings. We can teach them an appropriate way to express negative emotions such as fear, shame, pain and anger which by the way is very linked to fear.

We create a safe space for others to share by primarily being good listeners. Secondly by NOT looking to preach or criticize or offer advice after others have opened up to share their stories, pains, hurts and disappointments or mistakes.

Just listening with empathy builds trust and they are likely to return to tell us more.

Why would our children or anyone for that matter be inclined to open up to share themselves with us if they won’t receive validation but receive criticism or advice on how to get over it. Will we be surprised therefore when they seek it from people who are not a good influence on them?

What does empathic language look like?

Here are scenarios and examples of Empathic Responses (ER)

When Tina (10 yrs) forgot an important book needed for homework at school.

My ER was: “ Oh my, that must be annoying for you. What are you going to do?”

When Tim (2-5 yrs) was pelting toys or slapping others.

My ER was: “It looks like you are frustrated, what can I help you with, come lets get a drink of water, or lets go outside for a walk”. I removed him from whatever frustrated him. He was too young to explain what he was feeling and why, but I helped him name a probable emotion, understood his feeling and sought to sooth or comfort him by taking him for a drink or walk.

Stay tuned for ideas ofways to allow children to express their emotions.



Stress free Shopping with kids.

It was easy for me to remain calm and not feel hassled while shopping with my kids when I learnt some cool Love and Logic tips. Here they are, I am happy to share them with you.

My favorite to use with older kids was:

When asked “can I have that?”

I would respond “ Sure, with your own money”. This would shut them up pretty quickly. It reduced the begging for things by 80 %…….what a relief! I found their constant asking very irritating and energy draining.  Note this is a way of saying NO with a YES, clever positive communication!

Off course we can use this only IF they have money, and mine were good as saving birthday and Christmas money as well as working summer jobs.

Another favorite when they asked for one treat in the grocery and then another and another,

I would say “sure you can have that as long as you put the first one back, you choose” (there was usually a cost limit off course).

What about little children touching? Most shops we take little children into have items that are safe for a toddler to hold.  Why not have them hold items for us? At groceries they can dump them into the cart, or just carry them? This actually makes them feel important. A deep psychological need every human has!

Back to the touching, it is good for little ones to learn not to touch, but let’s keep our expectations reasonable. It is not fair to put them into enormously tempting situations when they have not yet developed will power. Just think how many years it has taken you to develop your own will power, far less a 30 month old!

Discussions regarding appropriate behavior can also be helpful prior to the outing and so too role playing.

Happy shopping with the kids and don’t forget to commend them for their nice behavior. Let’s catch them doing things right and noticing, rather than constantly just noticing and correcting the undesirable behavior.

I’d love to hear of your tricks and tips for happy shopping with your kids. Feel free to share.


Chores can help them with their schoolwork.

Every now and then I come across parents who do not believe in getting their children to do chores. I know one argument for this approach is that the children will not do a satisfactory job and the parent will have to redo or complete the chore so they rather not face that hassle and so prefer to do it themselves.

Another argument is the hassle of just getting them to listen and do the chores in a timely manner.

I cannot stress enough what a huge disservice it is to not require your children to do chores.  Firstly doing chores prepares them for the real world. Secondly, it gives children a feeling of belonging and importance in the family, their contribution is valued and so builds self esteem. Finally the tediousness of doing chores actually trains them to handle the tediousness of study and schoolwork.  I saw clear proof of  this with one of my sons. At around the age of 7 he was lacking focus in school, so we added him to the family dog feeding schedule (each boy had a duty to feed the dogs for one whole week, there being a few brothers older than him, he only had to do it every 4 weeks).  He was also assigned other small chores. The term he was given these responsibilities his school and homework performance significantly improved. It was not a coincidence. Many psychologists and parenting experts agree with this approach.

How young can they start doing chores and what chores are appropriate for what age children? This is a very important question and must be carefully considered. Some parents go to the other extreme and make their children do too much, and give young children adult responsibilities, so much so that they rob the child of child play, these children become like little adults by the age of 9 or 10.  The deprivation of healthy play can have adverse effects on the child later in life.

So what are age appropriate chores? And how well must they be done?

I’d say children as young as 4 can start sponging dirty spots off walls, fridges, mirrors and furniture. They can push a mop, broom or vacuum cleaner around. Water house plants and scrub shower stalls, wash toys and plastic dishes. Outdoors, raking leaves or transferring them to big containers is easy and so too is helping to wash the car, to name a few.

WARNING: do not criticize chores not well done. Demonstrating how you want it done is best. Clearly describing what a job well done is like is also helpful and my favorite approach when the job is unsatisfactory is to remind them what is expected THE NEXT TIME they are about to do the same chore. Eg “ Hey honey, remember when you wash the car this time, to wipe evenly so as not to leave dust spots on the doors”.  “ Hey sweetie, when you vacume this time, remember to do the corners”.

Asking them how they feel about their accomplishment at the end can be a good self esteem builder so don’t forget this part. It can also be a prick in their conscience if they know that they did not put their all into it.

No matter how its done, always show gratitude and express that you value their contribution.

Get the gist?

Stay tuned for the next post about how to get them to actually do the chores without nagging.


Relationship Building with Teens

My 18 year old asked me last night if she could go swimming at the beach we were vacationing near to. Off course my first thought reaction was ” is she crazy, people don’t swim at a beach at night”, but then I recalled my wonderful memories of my youth doing that very thing, and how delightful it was. So I let down my overprotective guard a little and said why not! I even suggested her younger sisters go along for the experience and due to the location of this particular beach I watched over them. The novelty was over after 15 minutes and all were happy for a new experience.

Loosening up on our rigid limits, letting go to spontaneity, allowing a little flexibility on our norms to have some fun with our children can be very healthy and relationship building.

Can you recall a time when one of your children dared or asked you to do something out of the ordinary and potentially fun and you were resistant? I encourage you to step out and allow yourself to indulge a bit. You only stand to gain! Take time to recall YOUR youth days and the fun, daring things you did….without your parent’s consent! So indulging your children in a few little simple daring activities, consenting, can only benefit the relationship and not harm it.

Besides a swim at the beach in the dark (there was some light from a nearby lamppost btw), we had ice cream before dinner, what’s the big deal? We were driving back from sightseeing and we were passing the ice cream shop, rather than go back there after dinner it was logical to stop and have ice cream first…. we are on vacation… it’s no big deal… again it’s out of the ordinary and the kids are amazed to see such flexibility and letting go of rules for one day in a year…’s nice to hear them say ” you are so cool mom”!  Wow I was really daring. I also jumped off some highish rocks into the sea that they were jumping off from. Dad surveyed the territory first to ensure it was safe.  Another cool mom thing to do…especially at the age of 56!

I’d love to hear of your safe and daring fun things you are your kids/teens have been doing this summer. Feel free to share.

Will they say “YES” to weed, alcohol and…

Are you a parent who believes or hopes that your child will never experiment or use marijuana and other substances?  The percentage of youth who do experiment and continue to use mind altering substances (MAS) is shockingly high. Why are they resorting to these?

In my previous blog I asked questions which if you responded to, would lead to some answers.  If you responded to the question to describe what makes you trust a person, and your response was that you trust people who you feel safe with, who do not threaten you, then that answer alone would tell you why our children will or will not confide in you.

If they avoid confiding in us then chances are a bit higher that they will experiment and indulge in alcohol and or MAS, and other anti social behaviours. Trust is essential.

So we earn their trust by not threatening their inner person. We provide a safe space for them to voice their opinions and share their stories. Criticising their choice of friends,  music, clothes, hair styles, etc is a sure way to alienate them from you and have them zip their lips. This actually breeds deceit. To avoid a parent’s condescension a child will resort to tricks, lying and sneaking. I think most humans do this, not just children and teens.

The need for approval, belonging, acceptance, unconditional love is so strong that when these needs are not met people seek to have them met in any which way. So children who are harshly lectured, preached at, threatened and harshly punished are likely to become passive or actively aggressive and resort to MAS and other anti social behaviours.

What about the teens who are not harshly disciplined and have loving relationships with their parents and still experiment or use MAS? I am no psychologist but one possibility could be that their feelings of self worth could be low. Maybe they do not feel competent in anything, they may be bored, not academically or athletically oriented, and that need to feel adequate is not being met.

Research shows that children in very affluent families are much less passionate about activities and easily bored.  Off course the definition of ‘loving relationships’ is another topic of discussion in itself.

Then intelligent, very motivated, well connected, engaged teens could very well experiment and their frequency of use will most likely be determined by their need for inner peace and calm.

The pressure to achieve and succeed is higher than ever in history. The competition for scholarships, financial aid, places in universities, approval and acceptance, knowing one’s purpose, understanding the meaning of life, the need for basic unconditional love, parent’s undivided attention is so intense that the need for MAS is not surprising. Youth today are faced with all these questions and needs and the falling away of deep traditional values, virtues, spirituality  and religion leaves a big hole in them that needs to be filled. When MAS are used, dopamine is released in the brain, this is a highly pleasurable neurotransmitter much appreciated in times of anxiety.

Finally we can’t ignore the fact that youngsters whose parents use or were users of MAS are more likely to be users too.

So will they say YES to MAS? We can make great efforts to meet their psycho-emotional needs for importance, total acceptance, maintain deep trusting honest presence and connection with them, not over indulge them in ‘”things” and an easy life of no responsibilities, model deep values, virtues and faith, have lots of loving conversations about everything, encourage prayer, meditation, deep breathing, community service and  and with that, they may say “NO” to Mind altering substances.

Note EFT ( Emotional Freedom Techniques or tapping), Yoga, sport and exercise are great in reducing anxiety as well as natural substances such as: Selenium, St. Johns Wort, high doses of Niacin ( Vit B3), and CBD (cannabidiol the medicinal, non psycho active component) of cannabis. These should be explored before anti depressants and MAS.

Listen and read your child’s behaviour to see if they are anxious and need you more deeply. Empower them to say ‘NO’ to drugs and alcohol.

Feel free to private message me for further enquiries about this topic.