How Empathy Looks as Your Kids Grow Up

Think about when your kids were little and they scraped their knee. Or when someone hurt their feelings on the playground and they were filled with sadness. Their first reaction was to call out or run to you.  You sat with them, listened, and reassured them it would all be ok.  Your empathetic reaction, soothing voice, and physical touch made them feel they could go on, maybe even run back over to the playground and try again.  Your presence in the midst of their sadness helped them feel comforted, safe, and that they could make it through their difficult moments and hard feelings.

It’s easy to know something is wrong with our kids when they’re little. They are so much more transparent in how they are feeling and what they need. And as parenting goes, knowing what to do for our little one’s scraped knee is easy to figure out. As they get older, the issues they face can get more complex. Issues may arise that we don’t know how to maneuver through ourselves. We can feel unsure of how to handle situations and how to guide them. It can create fear in our ability to parent them. This is normal and can be overcome.

Over the years, our kids end up reaching for us less and less because they begin to mature and start figuring things out on their own.  But that doesn’t mean they still don’t need us to be there in those difficult moments for comfort.  I think there’s an unfounded belief that teens only want their friends and don’t want to share their deep feelings and troubles with their parents.  From where I sit in my office with teens, that’s just not true. I hear comments like, “Oh we don’t talk about stuff like this at home” or “we talk about a lot of things but emotions and how we feel isn’t one of them” or “I wish I could feel comfortable talking about this stuff with my parents”.  I see this over and over again. Teens and young adults need and want this open door to talking about the hard stuff. They want the closeness and connection that talking about deeper feelings brings.

Once I help teens break down the walls that prevent them from confiding in a parent, I see a sense of relief.  They describe feeling lighter. They feel less alone in dealing with their stuff.  When teens and young adults know they can go there with their parents and talk about their difficult feelings and find comfort, they can face their challenges with so much more ease.