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How to Use Empathy to Stay on the Same Team When Your Kid is Struggling
The most important thing you can do when your neurodivergent child is having a hard time is not what you think.
We parents don’t have all the answers.
When your kid is stuck, unmotivated, or overwhelmed, it’s hard to think straight. I understand how frustrating that can be, and how hard it is to keep calm when you aren’t sure how to help. We just want to DO SOMETHING to fix it!
If you are fed up with top-down parenting approaches, but you don't know what to do instead, you’re not alone.
If you aren’t able to raise your kid as you were raised, because it just hasn’t worked, you may feel powerless as a parent. That’s understandable. You don’t want to yell and intimidate, but you’re at a loss. Even if you are willing to have the icky, guilt-hangover feeling you get from power-over parenting, you may have noticed that yelling and intimidation stop working eventually. The solution I’m offering is not what you want to hear: slow down.
Try to do less for your child, and simply be with them with no agenda.
The most important thing our kids need when they are struggling is our nonjudgmental presence. They don’t need us to fix their problem, they need to feel less alone while they work it out. And that takes as long as it takes.
Yes, your kid will probably need some support, and you can trust your intuition on that… after you slow down. When we’re feeling urgency, it is harder to tap into our inner knowing, or even our logical brain, because our emotional limbic system takes charge when it perceives an emergency. By hurrying to solve your kid’s problem, the part of your brain that knows the solution shuts off. That would leave anyone feeling helpless! No wonder we don’t know what to do.
When we swoop in and fix, it takes away our kid’s chance to learn from their challenges.
I’m not talking about true emergencies, of course. If your toddler runs into the street, that is a problem you need to fix right away. If your tween is being blackmailed online, you are stepping in.
Teaching won’t happen in frantic moments. You will both need to discharge your stress first. During the aftermath, you can be with your kid as they feel their feelings about what happened. You can find an appropriate time to ask them about it.
When your child’s struggle is not an emergency, it may still be very uncomfortable to stay with them without doing anything. It isn’t easy to just be with them in the messiness. That’s why we need to ground ourselves first, and slow down, so we can have perspective. Mindfulness can help with this.
In mindful parenting, your job is to see your child in the most generous light you can, knowing that they are doing their best even when it doesn’t seem that way. Then ask them about their own solutions.
It is much easier to empathize with your kid when you have empathized with yourself first.
We are so identified with our kids that we need to untangle our own identities from theirs. If we feel ourselves as individuals with our own needs, we won’t project our own internal drama onto them. We will be less identified with their problems.
You may believe this will result in a more distant relationship, but when you try it you will see a healthier relationship with your child is growing out of mutual respect. To do this, you’ll need to get clear on your own feelings and needs.
To grow your self-empathy, ask yourself:
What am I feeling?
What do I need?
Do this every day. Pause, take a breath, and ask yourself these two questions. Also do it before connecting with your child, or anyone you have a relationship with. It is hard at first, just like any skill, but will get easier.
Want more support with mindful parenting?
Our free parent masterclass will teach you some new tools to help your kid with motivation.
We will share practical, easy-to-use information that can change the way your family relates to each other right away. When you join our free training, you can be confident that the strategies you will learn have helped hundreds of families like yours, and are backed by the latest brain and attachment science.
3 Things You Will Learn in Unstuck & Understood:
Why your self-regulation will impact your kid’s willingness to fail.
How every kid is motivated by something, it just might not be what you wanted.
What you can do to help your kid feel more motivated to do the stuff you want them to do (it has to do with their relationship with you).