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Baby Steps

creating empathy, reducing violence

Birth-8 Before It's Too Late


I once asked a 4-year-old child if he listened to his parents at home. "My Mom", he said. I always listen to my Mom." When I asked why he brightened. "Because she always listens to me!"

This is a true story and one of the most powerful reasons to listen to the children we spend time with. Even if we're already great listeners it usually helps to re-focus our skills every once in a while.

One of the first skills involved in good listening is empathy. It's important to know that empathy differs from sympathy. Here are the two definitions.

Definition of empathy

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner

Definition of sympathy

feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune.

"they had great sympathy for the flood victims"

The biggest difference I can see in the two definitions is that empathy is more complete and includes a deeper understanding of the individual person than sympathy. I really don't believe a person can truly feel sorry for another person although it's possible to feel sorry with them.

By using empathy with our kids and family members, we help them learn to do the same for others.

My favorite resource for listening is How To talk So Children Listen and How To Listen So Children Talk by Faber and Mazlish. Mainly because it's written in a funny and self-deprecating manner that works for frazzled parents and also because all of their techniques are illustrated in cartoons for you just in case you don't have time to read the text.

I'm going to summarize 3 techniques found in the book that will help you with your listening skills.

Say Nothing

The first technique I'm going to talk about is to say nothing. Really. When your child comes to you and starts telling you something that seems to matter to them, resist the urge to judge, give advice or take sides. Just listen. Say nothing or just a hmmm....or an Oh! will do. Wait without judging, they will tell you more. When they're done talking you can ask them what they plan to do. You'll find that they often have an even better plan than the one you felt like telling them.

Don't Judge

Most often, kids don't want your advice. They already know how you're probably going to feel about it. If you pass any kind of judgment whatsoever, you'll cause them to clam up. If anything, ask them to tell you more.

Ask For Clarity

I find that asking for more of an explanation is a great technique to use in life, not just in parenting or teaching. When you ask and you take the time to listen to the answer they give, you find out what they really think and what they really might do. Their first words might just be blowing off steam and you can let them vent without worrying that they'll end up breaking the law or hurting someone.

Using the above techniques will get your kids talking better than any other method hands down

One last thing. When using empathy it's always good to remember to only give to others after we've already given enough to ourselves.

You might not be the best parent or teacher in the world but you are the one they need today!

Here's something else to think about.

How do you teach your kids about empathy and listening?

What questions do you still have?

If you're a community member, I'm in the process of setting up a forum to discuss questions like the ones above weekly so stay tuned!

If you're not a community member, join here, it's free and you immediately get a link to my 21-page slideshow that tells you How to Get Your Kids To Listen Without Yelling or Time-Outs! as well as the next short modules of Baby Steps delivered effortlessly to your inbox.

I think you might want to see next week's module on my favorite simple and fun parenting technique that teaches your kids to be both smart and happy with minimal effort on your part, so join now before you forget!

See you then!! Nanci

Nanci J. Bradley is a child and family educator, parent, author, family aerobics instructor, and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BA in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI.

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