Empathy versus Sympathy – What’s the big deal?

February 12, 2014

With Valentine’s Day a mere 3 days away, I wanted to share a mini-lesson on the difference between something we all carry in that fist-sized red organ that sits in the middle of our chests. I’m sharing this lesson because it is one of the keys to managing your child’s behavior – seriously!

Empathy is about connection and sympathy is about disconnection.

That’s it. Mini-lesson over. You want more? Ok. There are three key qualities of empathy that I want you to consider as we discover more about parenting –

1. Perspective taking – the ability to take the perspective, or “stand in the shoes of” another person

2. Staying out of judgment – rarely does empathy begin with the phrase, “At least”, as in “At least you got one hit in the game”.

3. Recognizing emotion – Identifying an emotion in another person, then communicating that. Instead of trying to make things better, how about saying, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, but I’m so glad you told me.”shutterstock_173325368

A colleague of mine shares a story of empathy – imagine your child falling in a deep hole and shouting out, “I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed.” Then we look in and we say, “Hey, I know what it’s like down here, and your not alone.”

Empathy is a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with our children, we have to connect with something inside ourselves that knows that feeling. Try some empathy with your heart-shaped chocolates this week! Be WISE!