4 Steps to Show Empathy to Our Kids

Sisters-best of friends but often a struggle.

I have never seen such intense fighting as the cat fights between my 15 year old and 4 year old daughter. Both are incredibly strong willed and able to hold their own in a battle.

Here’s the problem. The 15 year old is my first born. She was raised under an iron fist regime-authoritative, create a perfect child type of parenting style. Basically we had no clue with were doing and had way too much time to focus on one child so she was forced into obedience and compliance.

Three kids later comes the baby of the family who is now 4 years old and a bit spoiled. Sometimes a lot spoiled. She is doted on by her siblings and often gets her way through a very loud vocalization of her unhappiness aka fussing and shrieking to get her way.

I am guilty of giving in to her just to keep the peace. Bad mom. I’m working on this.

Focus on the relationship and listen to understand.

This past weekend the two were going at it quite badly, the final fight over snuggling the dog. My oldest, Rivers, had him first when Napoleon (our pet name for Savvy, our 4 year old short dictator) began to maul him and basically take him away from Rivers.

When Rivers tried to hold her own with the short dictator, Savvy shrieked, I heard the shrieks and ordered (very authoritatively) Rivers to share the dog.

Rivers was not pleased and stomped off, stating loudly that we always give in to Savvy.

Sigh. Great parenting moment-NOT.

I took a breath and went after her to talk. She was arms crossed, angry face, and very closed down to me-I’m sure expecting excuses and a scolding.

I have learned that admitting I am wrong will go a long way. So I sat down with her, and apologized for taking Savvy’s side. I acknowledged that Savvy can be a tyrant, and admitted that I am often at a loss on what to do.

The relationship with our kids is the most important thing to focus on during a conflict.

Her attitude immediately softened when she realized I was on her side and that I was doing the best I could. We talked for a few minutes about some ideas to deal with Savvy, and our relationship felt solid when we rejoined the family.

Through this exchange I learned a few things about showing empathy.


Don’t be afraid to admit you are wrong. Parents aren’t perfect, and when our kids can see that we make mistakes AND are willing to own up to them, they trust us more and they will come to us with their mess ups because they know that we understand.

Apologize. Give your kids a chance to forgive and give yourself the chance to make it right with them. A sincere apology goes a long way to restoring a relationship.

See their point of view. In the example with my daughters, I showed Rivers that I saw her point of view, that I understood Savvy was often a little tyrant and that it must be hard for her to live with a person who always tries to get her way. She was so surprised when I saw her point of view that it brought all the walls down.

Find a way to laugh together. A final step of connection is laughing together. Never underestimate the power of humor. Find something funny about the situation and laugh about it with them. Laughter releases feel good hormones and will help both of you to feel more connected.

Every moment is a chance to start fresh-show a little empathy-and as the old saying goes, “Walk in someone else’s shoes”.

Never is that more true or needed than with our children. They need to know we hear them, that we understand, and that we are trying our best to be there for them.

We will never be perfect in every exchange with our kids (I know I have loads of improvement needed), but as long as our trajectory is pointing us towards a stronger relationship and we are continuing to course correct we will continue to build lasting, happy connections with our family.

And that’s what it is all about.


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