I often hurt myself by running around and bumping into tables at home when I was young. I would cry and my mom would come to the rescue, smack the furniture, and say, “Bad table. Bad.”
That was her way of easing my pain. 😆
Poor table. 😆
Sometimes, it was the wall too. “Bad wall. Very bad wall.” (Smack!)
It wasn’t the wisest way to empathize with kids. But for the little me, back in the day, it was very comforting.
To see my mom get mad at an object and put the blame on it instead of on me? Oh, it would hush and calm me down. It was not my fault, right? I wasn’t clumsy or naughty. That furniture! Those walls!
To this day, I still trip in the most unlikely places. My pinky toe also gets stubbed all the time as if it has a mind of its own, deciding not to go where the rest of my body is going. But of course, I have matured and I don’t blame the grocery cart with wobbly wheels for it. Or the door that was left open by someone else. Or the hallway lights that weren’t on.
Mature eh? LOL
Okay, going back to showing empathy.
Hugs and kisses usually work for bumps and wounds. But let’s get down to the trickier part. Kids’ feelings.
Children experience the same unpleasant feelings that adults go through everyday – annoyance, frustration, disappointment, rejection, helplessness, anger, etc. And these are BIG emotions that they often don’t know how to manage.
So sometimes, we need to think like a child and imagine ourselves as children going through the same ordeal, no matter how small or petty it is, in order for us to truly understand and help them.
Here’s how I learned this.
Mia’s friend gave her a really cute preloved toy and she was OVERJOYED to have it. She had been eyeing that same toy from the mall, so you could just imagine how thrilled she was to receive it on a fairly ordinary day.
Their play date was going really well until her friend suddenly changed her mind and told her she can only have the toy for a DAY.
You’d think that this is not going to be a problem but when we got home, she couldn’t stop talking about it.
We discussed it twice over dinner but she still kept on asking the question,
“Why do you think she did that?”
In my mind, the repetition was probably because she was already tired and cranky. We had a long day and I was sure she’d be fine and more rational come morning.
But before we slept, she asked me again.
How do you feel, Mommy? How sad? How many percent?
(Percent? Oh, all right… Let’s talk about this, one last time.)
I feel 100% sad, Anak.
She still didn’t look comforted… (Uhm 150%?) I was probably not empathizing enough.
So I added –
I feel terrible that one minute I’m so happy because you could already keep the toy and the next minute so sad because she changed her mind and said you can only have it for a day. I feel very bad…
She quietly nodded. Her feelings had been validated and I hope I verbalized what was in her head.
Then I thought maybe she needed to cry. You know, to release locked up feelings inside.
She’s really not the crying type so I intentionally tried to tear up to encourage her.
The minute she saw my eyes filling, SHE BROKE DOWN.
Me too. I feel heartbroken Mommy… I felt like crying in front of her a while ago… But I just agreed to have it for only one day because you asked me to agree.
Yes… Because she’s still nice, isn’t she? Others won’t even let you have it at all…
I wish we could do something… But it’s really her decision because it’s her toy. And we have to respect that.
I feel bad Mommy… You feel bad too?
She hugged me, shaking and sobbing, and I cried with her.
It was a very emotional moment and I learned that when hugs and words of empathy are not enough, we need to find other ways to share their pain.
We have to go down to their level and see things through their point of view because their feelings are real!
She let go of the hug and said,
She’s not even playing with the toy anymore. She just wants it to complete her collection. But me… I love it. Why would she take it back when she said she’s already giving it to me?
I gave my toys to my other friends too and I never took it back afterwards. I mean what I say.
I know, honey… I admire you for that… That’s why it feels unfair right now.
I couldn’t sleep because of this, Mommy. It feels awful… We have to return the toy tomorrow…
I remained silent and just kept my sad face.
A little later she said…
Thank you for comforting me, Mommy…
It’s funny when we both cried at the same time.
Yeah, it is! 😂
And then the most odd yet beautiful thing happened.
We both laughed as we recalled what just happened a few minutes ago.
She probably thought I looked silly crying. Well, I did feel silly faking a cry. 😂
But I guess, it helped her.
We laughed some more but since she was still not completely over it, she teared up again.
So she was alternately laughing & crying this time.
It was crazy.
Haven’t we all experienced something like this before?
It was probably a mix of “I feel better” but “not totally” better for her and it is so real that I think even adults can relate.
I laughed and cried with her too.
Because that was all I could do.
She had to endure it.
There are days that suck and there are things we really cannot have.
Mommy, let’s pray that God will help change her mind.
Sure. 🙏 🙏 🙏
This all happened when the lights were already off.
She fell asleep shortly afterwards.