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Do you ever wonder what your child is thinking?
You know, like when they are staring intently into space, or when they are lost in their imagination, or when they are interested in some item that seems so commonplace that it shouldn’t be interesting?
Unfortunately, it’s difficult for a child to explain it to us… So we as parents have to put a little work into understanding what our children are experiencing every day.
The first step of empathizing with a child is to admit that their problem is just as important and valid as adult problems. It helps to put the child’s experiences into adult terms so that I can feel real empathy for them.
This is especially helpful when I am impatient with my kids. It’s nice to get a fresh idea of what they are experiencing so that I don’t overreact.
Here’s some examples of a child’s perspective… In adult terms.
When someone takes their toy away
To put this into perspective, let’s imagine that the toy is something important to an adult.
Like, a wallet, maybe?
A cell phone?
Or, maybe a Chanel handbag?
You get the idea.
What if someone just walked up to you and took your wallet right out of your hands and then just tried to walk away? What would you do?
I would probably yell at the person. I’d probably call them some names and threaten to call the cops. And if that didn’t work, I would chase them down and try to forcefully take my wallet back from them.
Isn’t that exactly what kids usually do when someone takes their toy?
I can be patient when they get upset if I remember this.
The first day of a new preschool or daycare
Lots of children’s scenarios are hard to relate to because there isn’t another relationship in life that you can quite compare to that of a parent and child. The child relies on the parent for everything- all their needs and wants. The child trusts the parent completely. The child loves the parent with all their heart. Most adults don’t keep that kind of long-suffering love. Our love becomes conditional on other people’s actions. Not so for a child.
The part that we can relate to is this: Someone important to you drives you out in the middle of a strange city. You’ve never been there before. It’s crowded, you’re surrounded by strangers, you don’t really know where you are. And then your friend just…. Leaves.
And you’re alone. Other than all the strangers around you.
This scenario helps me feel some empathy for my kids when they tantrum or cry when I leave… But it still doesn’t do justice for the trauma that the kids are going through because a good friend just doesn’t fill the shoes of a mother or a father.
There’s just no adult equivalent of a mom or dad other than your own mom and dad. That’s because a friend doesn’t feed you. A friend doesn’t clothe you, clean you, keep you safe, teach you, etc.
This isn’t just a friend leaving you in some random city. It’s your best friend. The one person in the world that you trust more than anyone. And not only trust but rely on for everything you need. Most adults don’t have a friend like that. The closest you might get is a spouse. It’s like your spouse dropped you off in the middle of a strange city and just left you there.
Knowing this helps me understand the tears and I respond better because of it.
When you ask them to eat a new food
You sit down for dinner. You’re so excited because your spouse cooked tonight! You’ve had a big day and are starving. You can’t wait to eat.
The table is covered with pots and pans with lids on each one to keep the contents warm.
You are so excited to see what’s for dinner! Mashed potatoes? Ham? Rolls?
Your spouse starts removing the lids so that everyone can dig in!
There’s…. chicken’s feet? Haggis (sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs)? Tripe (stomach lining)? Live squid? Jing Leed (grasshoppers)?
(Want to try Haggis? Click the image below!)
You get the picture.
Each thing is unexpected. The smell, taste, texture, color, and appearance are strange.
There are certain people who would love a meal like this, but for most of us, it’s not easy to put all your old habits and expectations aside to try something new and odd.
I would totally freak. No wonder it’s difficult for my kid to try something new.
When you put your kid into the car seat
This is one of the creepiest ones for me to imagine.
It’s like a friend or a spouse came up to me and said “Come on honey, it’s time to go. Let’s get into the car.”
So I get in because I trust this person.
Then he straps me down with buckles and braces that are all locked so that I have no way of getting out. And then he just starts driving. I have no idea where he’s going or why I have to be locked in.
I’m having a panic attack just thinking about this. So creepy!
No wonder kids hate the car seat!
When you forget to tell your kid where you’re going or what transitions are coming up next
For this scenario, you’re at work.
You have a lot to do today, so you dive in. You are focused and in the zone.
Out of nowhere, your boss walks up. She has a specific project that she wants done immediately. You aren’t happy about it, but you put aside everything you had going on to make this the priority. Again, you’re very engrossed in what you’re doing.
It takes a while to get in a groove since you had to completely switch gears to begin this new project, but you are finally making some progress.
Just then, your boss comes in again and asks you to change to a new assignment immediately. No warning. Again, you have to set aside a half finished project and completely change your mode of thinking to begin working on this new assignment. Not only that, but this assignment is crap. You don’t want to do it.
But you put your head down and get to work.
You’re just getting into it when your boss comes in again to institute a new change- right away. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
Of course, anyone would be close to losing it at this point. No wonder kids don’t like it when adults spring things on them.
Stop playing so we can go to the store, now it’s time for homework, now you’ve got to get your chores done, now we need to get to your piano lessons…And it all has to happen right now!
No wonder kids need reminders of what is coming up.
When you are leaving the house
Again, to truly empathize with our kids we need a person who has a similar emotional tie to us.
Someone like our spouse. Let’s say I’m home and relaxing with my husband.
Then out of nowhere he gets up and leaves. I have no idea where he went, when he’ll be back, or even if he’s coming back. No context whatsoever.
That’s scary. I love my husband so much. I want to know what’s happening in his life, if he’s safe, and when I can rely on him to be back because I count on him for daily things.
It would totally freak me out if he just left out of nowhere.
No wonder kids cry when mom or dad leave the house.
When you tell them they have to wait for something they want
Again, to get a fair comparison we have to compare the thing they want with something an adult would really want.
How about a raise?
Imagine going to your boss for a raise. You’re full of excitement because you believe you have good reason to ask for one. You give all your supporting evidence, and the conversation seems to be going well. You are getting more and more sure that your boss will approve your request.
But instead she says, “You can wait.”
You plea and plea, but she is firm. “You don’t need the raise right now. Just wait. You can have it later.”
I would be pretty mad if that happened to me. That’s how my kid feels when she can’t have ice cream til later.
When it’s time for bed
Ok, I still don’t get this one.
Bedtime is the best part of my day. Maybe one day I’ll have more empathy for my kids. But not today.
Bedtime rocks. Kids are crazy if they don’t like bedtime.
When they have to eat what’s for dinner
I know, there’s good reason behind making kids eat what you prepare, or at least try it.
But I still think there’s value in knowing where our kids are coming from when they feel upset about things.
This is like when you go to a dinner party and they are serving food you don’t like. Of course, even as adults, we have to shut up and eat it even if we don’t like it, so there’s no reason not to teach your kids to do so. This is a good polite habit that will help your kids make and keep friends.
But I get being disappointed when you show up to a dinner party and you first realize that you will spend the rest of the evening taking tiny bites and scooting food around your plate to give the illusion that you loved the meal.
That’s just not fun for anyone. Even if you learn to fake it, the feelings are real, so I can at least empathize with my kids on this one. Even if they still have to try the meal I prepared.
When they have to stop playing to go to the bathroom
Again, to adequately understand this situation we need something that we love as much as a child loves playing and something burdensome and annoying….
Let’s say you are in the middle of a spa day! And it’s amazing and wonderful. You’re totally engrossed in relaxing and being pampered. Nothing could interrupt the Zen feeling you have right now.
And then… You have to drag yourself out of luxury to go potty. It interrupts the relaxation, you might bump your freshly painted nails, the whole ambiance is just ruined.
No fun. I understand my child a little better with that visual.
When they get home from school and have to do their homework
You know when you get home from work and you have to make dinner? And do the dishes? And mow the lawn? And clean the house? And do laundry?
Poor kids. I totally get it.
When you’re busy
We all know how this feels. This continues into adulthood.
Sometimes people are busy and we feel unimportant.
It could be the boss who doesn’t have time to meet with us to discuss our goals, it could be the spouse who’s too tired to connect with, it could be the friend who isn’t available to go out to lunch.
We all get this one.
I just don’t always think of my kids as feeling the same way.
When they are trying to communicate with us and we don’t understand what they want or need
Have you ever learned a new language?
Imagine being the only one in your class, at work, in your neighborhood who spoke English.
Everyone else speaks… I don’t know, German or something.
How would you meet new friends? How would you find out what is expected of you? How would you know where to go? How would you learn the rules?
It’s a terrifying and lonely place to be. No wonder it’s so tough on toddlers and babies when they aren’t understood.
When they see something new- something ordinary- but to them it’s the most amazing and wonderful discovery!
Have you ever climbed a mountain?
It’s a ton of work and you’re usually focused on your feet so that you don’t fall.
I always wonder half way up why I am even doing this. Why do I torture myself?
And then there’s the view when you get to the top.
It takes your breath away. It’s something you can’t see every day. It’s something unique and special and interesting. You could stare for hours and just take it all in.
Isn’t it cool that kids can experience that every day, in the smallest things? A butterfly, a piece of paper, a necklace, watching water drip from the faucet, listening to thunder.
Kids find the joy and amazement in our world all the time.
I love trying to think like a kid so that I can experience that again.
Children are wonderful. Their perspective is unique. Every parent can benefit from thinking a little bit like a child.
It changes how we respond to them when we honestly relate to our children.
Let’s all make a goal to gain a little more perspective in our parenting.