Parenting Class

This Month’s Parenting Class: The Power of Empathy

My kids LOVE it when my husband and I tell them stories of when we were children. Their current favorite is a story about how my husband passed gas on a wooden pew in church. His mother was mortified. My kids love this, and not just because its about flagellants. That’s a given for sure. They love it because stories about our lives as children, give them insight into us. This is intimacy. Intimacy can also be defined as IN-TO- ME-SEE. I love my parents deeply and learned so much from them, but I often feel as if I never “Knew” them when I was a child. If you were to ask my 9-year-old self what my mother’s favorite color was, I would not have been able to tell you. Kids are naturally narcissistic. They are completely centered on themselves and the things that intentionally interact with them. It is hard for children of a certain age to look outside themselves. To focus on “OTHER.” When we share stories of ourselves with them, that interest them, we allow them to truly “See” outside of themselves and into us.

This is especially important when modeling Empathy. Empathy is the ability to see outside yourself and understand how a certain situation might affect someone else. Empathy is an important skill that teaches children to be compassionate and caring, and not children who “bully” other kids. Empathy teaches our children to love others as Christ loves us. Love is the model. How do we know how to love? We see it modeled in the way Christ has loved us.

This is especially true when disciplining our children. When our child fails we have an opportunity to share with them our own failures and how we identify with their feelings. This helps them not to feel alone in their failure or their anger, and discussing it with you, will combat their feelings of shame. When you are vulnerable and transparent with your children about your life, they feel connected to you. Close to you. They know that they can talk to you about anything because you have gone through the same things yourself.

Transparency and vulnerability may look different depending on the ages of your children. By all means, please don’t share deep personal things with children who are not emotionally old enough to process that information, but there are things about you that your children would benefit greatly knowing. Start with experiences you had when you were their age that they may not know about, tell them about thoughts and feelings you had at their age. Tell them about what made you proud of yourself; what you liked about yourself, what made you sad, fearful, angry or scared. Sharing these things with them lets them know they are not alone. Those feelings are normal. Talking to your kids at any age about your feelings, and identifying with their feelings even when they have made a poor choice in regards to their actions, promotes an Empathy that will combat feelings of shame and encourage connection. Jesus did this for us in the flesh when he was tempted with every temptation known to man. He wanted us to know that he understood us fully, and how human we are, and how easy it is to struggle with sin. He overcame our sin and shame and made a way to connect with us. He is the perfect model of empathy and He has empowered us as his children with Empathy, to defeat shame in our lives, and the lives of our children.

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