Want Less Conflict with Your Kids?
4 Empathy Experiments to Try
All parents and children experience conflict, and get stuck in frustrating patterns. Here are 4 experiments to try to tap into empathy and creative problem solving with your kids.
by Joshua Freedman
1. Take a long-term perspective
Imagine, 20 years from now, your child is talking with friends about their parents. Based on your behavior in the last two weeks: What might your child say about you?
“He got angry a lot.”
“She was too busy for me.”
“He loved being my Daddy.”
“She was my greatest ally.”
Is that what you want? What’s your ideal answer?
I remember leaving for a trip when my kids were around four and six years old. There was a “typical argument” in the morning before I left, and I ended up shouting at them. Later, with the clarity that comes when you’re 32,000 feet in the air, I thought: “This isn’t the Daddy I want to be. If this plane crashes, I don’t want them to remember me as someone who shouted.”
Next time you’re in a conflict with your kids, try to take a step back. What would my child say in that conversation about me-as-a-parent in 20 years?
2. Look beneath the surface
If we only focus on the surface level behaviors, we’re missing valuable data. Both for yourself and your child, ask: What’s going on beneath the visible behaviors? What’s driving those behaviors? When we tap into this curiosity, it softens our staked out resistance and opens us up to empathy and creative problem solving. Here’s a great description of that practice over a typical parent-child argument, homework:
3. Equalize everyone’s feelings
One of the most powerful tools that helped me reduce my frustration was, and still is, a version of empathy. When I’m agitated about my child, I remind myself: My kid is probably agitated about me. When I’m enraged with one of them (and they seem to take turns pushing those buttons), I remind myself: S/he is probably enraged with me. When I feel sad or disconnected, I consider: Maybe my child is feeling much the same.
4. Depersonalize it
Another tool is somewhat the opposite.
I ask myself:
Is this really about me?
Often when they’re having big feelings, my impulse is to take it personally.
He’s defying me.
She’s shutting me down.
However, with a bit of empathy, I can reflect: What if it has nothing to do with me? What if they’re expressing this feeling here, in my direction, because it’s safe to do so… but it’s not really about me?
I find this a curious paradox – empathy requires a recognition of reciprocity, on the one hand, and, on the other, separation. Interdependence and independence, both at the same time. That’s a powerful way to view ourselves as parents.
This article was first published on 6seconds.org on December 7, 2015