Raising Empathy

Every day I am reminded of how hard parenting is.  Questions flood my head almost incessantly as to whether or not we are doing ‘the right thing’ or causing psychological damage every time I lose my patience.  Especially when you are parenting ‘against the grain’.

Today, we went to the beach and my 3 year old made my heart sing and cemented the reasons why we know that we are doing the right thing, despite doing things that many people find strange.

We have been applying the teachings of Magda Gerber and RIE to our 2 boys who are 3 and 1 since Mr 3 was about 20 months old.  It has taken a lot of effort on our behalf to shift our perspective and to place respect at the core of our parenting, mainly because we ourselves were raised in authoritarian households.  We respect our boys.  We trust them.  And we guide them through their emotional breakdowns with the respect that they deserve.  We talk to our boys through what we are doing when we do things together, such as, putting clothes on, nappy changing, we ask for their permission when it is called for and when we set limits and follow through on those limits, we are not scared or ashamed of the upset feelings those limits might draw out.  In fact we welcome them as a chance to discuss feelings.  T is quite verbal for a 3 year old  and can tell us when he is angry, frustrated, mad, cross, sad, upset and happy and his new favourite: proud.

As we settled down to our spot on the crowded beach, a little boy was being dressed by his mother.  His mother was talking to someone else, not the little boy, and the boy was visibly upset and annoyed at his mother.  He was clearly not wanting to get dressed and instead wanted to play in the sand.  His mother forced both arms through his t-shirt, slapped on a cap and repeatedly hit his hands to get rid of any sand.  The poor boy wailed throughout the entire event and the mother didn’t acknowledge him or his feelings and went back to sunbathing once finished.

T was watching the entire time and turned to me and said:

“Mummy, why is that mummy not listening to the little boy?  He  doesn’t want to get dressed.  She is not talking to him.  That would make me very frustrated.”

“Yes T, I think that would frustrate me too.”

“He doesn’t want to get dressed.  It’s making him angry!!”

“Are you feeling angry?”

“No Mummy, I’m sad.”

And he got up and asked to go and play with the little boy.  As he approached him he said “Hello, I see you are upset.  If I played with you, will you be happy?  Here, you can use my spade.”

I teared up watching my little 3 year old being sympathetic and respectful of his new friend.  We are doing the right thing, raising an emotionally intelligent, empathetic and caring little boy, despite it not being this easy daily.


2 thoughts on “Raising Empathy

  1. Thank you for sharing this story and reminding me why we try to follow RIE as well! I look forward to the day when our dd shows the empathy that your son did.

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