The following is a guest post written by Kassandra Brown of Parentcoaching.org
“Time for reading” I say cheerfully while bracing myself for resistance.
“What do you want to read today? You pick,” I say as I touch my daughter’s shoulder to get her attention.
Grudgingly she gets up and chooses the simplest book we have in the house. After making sounds like “why, I don’t want to, and can’t we do it later?” she begins reading.
She starts to wiggle and fidget, playing with her feet and getting stumped by words she read yesterday.
I help her sound out the words all the while feeling my frustration rise, hearing the irritation creep into my voice, and – on one particularly awful day – getting up from our studies to yell and stomp out the door to the backyard.
What happened? Can anything good come from this sort of communication breakdown and painful parenting moment?
You can take 5 simple steps.
- Get Honest
- Welcome the Discomfort
- Make Connections
- Get Help (Here are a few ways to do so.)
- Enjoy the Changes
To illustrate those steps, I’ll open the window to my own inner work and share more of what I learned from this situation with my daughter.
Photo by epSos.de
After the anger clears a bit, I feel ashamed that I yelled at her. The anger and shame quickly turn inwards to berate me “Don’t you know any better? You’ve got all these great tools. You help other parents. Yet still you yelled at your child. Won’t you ever learn?”
I feel my old urge to try to fix or get rid of both the shame and the anger. I have strategies that say if I eat the right food, get enough sleep, do my morning practices for self care, and get emotional support then I won’t yell and I’ll finally be a good enough mom for my own standards.
Yet even as I feel the urge to respond this way, I remember the insights I’ve had through the help of my support team and a method called inner empathy. I’ve come to understand that my anger triggers shame which is often protecting me from other emotions, usually sadness and longing.
So I take the time in quiet and with support to listen to what’s going on. Under the anger is shame. Under the shame is sadness and anguish. Under the anguish is longing. Each layer, each part, protects the one underneath it.
I listen with compassion to the feelings, needs, and strategies of these parts of me. The sadness and longing appear like that of a very young girl, about 8 years old. She is the same age as my own daughter. She longs to feel safe, wanted, and loved. She is afraid she isn’t good enough. When she is afraid she gets angry and tries to prove to everyone that she is right. She will yell. She wants to hit. She sounds nearly identical to my daughter.
I am amazed that living inside of me is the energy of a young girl with the same strategies as my daughter.
I use that insight to guess that my daughter may have the same feelings and needs. Does she also feel anxiety, sadness, and shame? Does she also want to experience being wanted, loved, and safe?
As soon as I ask the question, I realize the answer is “Of course.”
My first reaction is a sad empathy that wants to make my daughter feel better. I almost go to her to apologize. But I notice I feel a sense of guilt when I think she doesn’t feel happy, safe, wanted, or loved enough.
A voice in me says “You just need to try harder. You need to make up for all the things you’ve done wrong.”
This is a familiar voice and one that leads to guilt rather than authentic connection.
I continue to connect with the parts inside of me, including the guilt, and to get curious about what they need.
When I ask my inner little girl what she needs, she says she wants to be safe and wanted and loved. She longs for safety and connection in her family. She wants to know that she is wanted no matter what she does, but she’s afraid she’s not.
I bring this insight into interactions with my daughter. Now when I get triggered with my daughter, I can remember there is a little girl inside of me that is also scared and longing for safety.
Then when my daughter stumbles in her reading, fights with her sister, or interrupts my work at the most inopportune moments, the empathy I’ve developed through this whole process helps both of us. I can get curious and listen to her. I can listen for the needs and feelings underneath the surface behavior.
When I listen to my daughter with empathy, our entire dynamic changes. I’m not so quick to fix or judge. I remember my own little girl feeling safer when she is heard without judgment.
I still act, but now my actions are more effective to stop the problem behavior while helping create connection rather than triggering both my daughter and I into more anger.
Fostering empathy in this way may sound like a long, hard road. As a fellow traveler, I can say with complete conviction “It’s worth it.”
Nothing else, no other strategy for meeting my own needs or my children’s needs has come close to being this effective.
What has helped you learn to homeschool with empathy?