I’ve been teaching fatherhood education courses for about 18 months now and as I’ve asked the guys I teach what concept has impacted them the most, the majority answer EMPATHY! Empathy is understanding how another person is feeling by putting yourself in their shoes. As parents, sometimes we forget that these children that we are raising have the same emotions as we have! The following is an example that I use in my classes. My husband and I enjoy going to the Auto Expo in Salt Lake. We can climb in and out of the newest model vehicles, sit in the driver’s seat and pop the trunks to our hearts content, all without the pressure of any salespeople. I prefer the trucks and SUV’s while my hubby loves to see the Corvettes. They are his favorite car and quite frankly, the closest he will ever have to driving one is sitting in it at the Expo.
What would happen if I had explored the SUV and truck sections to my heart’s content and then abruptly informed my husband that we needed to leave? Chances are, he wouldn’t flail around on the floor and scream, but it would be a silent drive home. And for the next little while, a sigh may escape his lips every time we saw one of the shiny sports cars on the road. Would it be different if I looked at my watch, noted that our time was getting short and then asked him if he wanted to hurry and look at the Corvettes? Yes, probably! It would be even better if I climbed in the car next to him and asked him if he liked this model or last year’s better, inquired about which color he would choose if he could buy one and even take a picture of him in the driver’s seat. All of these things do not mean that I am buying him a Corvette! It doesn’t even mean that I like Corvettes! What it does mean is that I value my husband, his interests AND our relationship!
How can we apply this scenario to parenting? Well, have you ever taken your child(ren) to Wal-mart? I have. Many, many times. They are so excited for this family outing but their enthusiasm starts to wane as the cart fills up with toilet paper, paper towels, dog food, medicines, deodorant, shampoo and more. They start to get a little testy. Because they don’t have the emotional self-control of an adult, they may even flail around on the floor and scream.
It really isn’t that different than the Auto Expo. Put yourself in their shoes. Exercise a bit of empathy.
About halfway through your shopping list, make a detour to the toy or electronic aisle. Inform them that you are only looking but that you would love to see which toys/video games/clothes they like. Ask them a couple of questions. You could even snap a picture that could be a reminder of what they would like for a birthday or Christmas gift!
When our children present us with a challenging behavior, take a few minutes to think about what may be causing their actions. Try to remember how you felt when something similar happened to you. Then, using that empathy that you have discovered, treat your child the way you wish you would have been treated in similar situations!
Jennifer Gardner, CLFE-P
Fatherhood Education Coordinator
435-553-9038 (talk or text)
In partnership with Utah State University Extension Services