Winning Genuine Cooperation by Showing Empathy and Validating Feelings

You know those times when you’ve just got to get your child to do something important (go to the doctor, to swim class, the dentist…) and she/he refuses to cooperate? Then you think, “Why can’t they just get with the program this one time? Why does everything have to be so hard?”

Well, let me introduce Susan, mother of 9 year-old Alex, and a recent graduate of my 7-week parenting class. In this story, Susan shares the remarkable shift that happens when she uses tools she learned in the series. Without giving too much away, here are the two conversations (with very different outcomes) between Susan and Alex:

BEFORE taking Positive Discipline Class

Susan:  “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you – Swim lessons start today, so you need to get ready to go.”

Alex: (Playing with Legos) “What? I don’t want swim lessons! You know I hate lessons!”

Susan:  “Alex, learning how to swim is really important – it’s about safety.”(Susan begins to feel angry and thinks, “What’s so hard about going to swim class? Swimming is great. This should be fun. Why is it so difficult?”)

Alex:  “I don’t want to.”(He starts to crush his elaborate Lego creations). “I’m not going.”(He sits defiantly on the couch.)

Susan: “Swim lessons are a privilege, young man. That’s enough of your whining. Stop it. Now!”

Alex:  “You never ask me what I want – I HATE YOU!”

Susan: (Thinking… “I hate this. I hate how hard it is to motivate my son. Forget it, I give up.”) She stomps off to another room to grab the swim gear.

Susan: “We paid for this class. Now get up and get to the car!”

Susan and Alex are both miserable and swim lesson does not go well.  

Sound familiar?

AFTER taking Positive Discipline Class

Susan:  (Taking some time beforehand to prepare herself.) “Hey Alex, Dad and I forgot to tell you but you’ve got swim lessons today. I’m really sorry that we’re springing this on you, but we gotta go now. I’ve got your swim gear and a snack for the car.”

Susan held up these two cards - Validating Feelings was where she experienced the most growth

“Both of these Positive Discipline Tool Cards were key.  I feel I learned the most about the power of validating feelings!

Alex:  “What? I don’t want swim lessons!  You know I hate lessons!”

Susan: “Honey, you only have to go four times and we found a new place where there are fewer kids so you’ll be able to hear better.” (She shows remorse for not giving him any warning and feels empathy for him, knowing that while he hates lessons, he actually loves to swim.)

Alex:  “I don’t want to!” (He starts to crush his Lego creations.) “I’m not going.” (Alex plops himself defiantly on the couch.)

Susan: “Alex, sweetie, I know this is upsetting, but destroying your Legos is not OK. You can hit a pillow if you’re angry.” (She allows him to express his feelings. She calmly and firmly tells Alex that swim lessons are something he just needs to do. Susan uses only one or to sentences instead of lecturing him.)

(Alex violently hits the pillow. Susan leaves the room. Then she remembers that staying with him might feel encouraging to him. She goes back and keeps him company but doesn’t try to fix or change his feelings.)

Susan: (After some time has passed, speaking gently…) “Honey, it’s time to go.” (Alex gets up and together, they walked to the car. During the drive Susan felt connected to her son through their easy conversation and a palpable sense of calm.  Alex even seemed to enjoy the lesson!)

This story’s a beautiful example of how empathy and encouragement go a long way toward winning genuine cooperation.  Through her use of grounded positive energy and empathy Susan not only accomplished her goal of getting Alex to his swim lesson, she laid the groundwork for a foundation of trust.

Later she she told me,

It was a tiny miracle that I didn’t lose it and Alex was able to get up to walk to the car. It worked mostly because I didn’t flip my lid. Being there while he hit the pillow actually calmed me down too! Now Alex is doing great with his lessons. He still complains, but there is an ease and matter-of-factness about our interactions.

Thank you Susan for sharing your story!

If you’re curious about deepening your parenting practice and learning the art of cooperation through empathy, check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities and it you’re in the Bay Area, my fall Positive Discipline Series.

CONSIDERSHAREACT

What gets in your way of just being with your child while they’re caught up in a feeling? Next time a big emotion hits, try bearing it with an attitude of love and let us know what happens!!

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2 Responses to Winning Genuine Cooperation by Showing Empathy and Validating Feelings

  1. mary hughes April 29, 2014 at 5:22 pm #

    Susan has shared a really big step in understanding that expressed feelings don’t necessarily mean the parent will change their mind on what is needed – yet the parent, by validating the child’s feelings and their own 🙂 changes the outcome and strengthens the connection between them which gives them a better place to start the next time a conflict arises! Thank you Susan for having the courage to share the BEFORE ( AND THE AFTER!!!) It is an encouragement to the reader, who wonders how to use the toolcards in their “real” parenting!!

  2. Lisa Fuller April 29, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    Wise words from a wise woman… thanks Mary!!

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