Many thanks to The Good Mother Project for sharing the story of my daughter's example of showing empathy.
I am not a perfect parent. And I am not raising perfect children. We have our ups and downs. We had more downs than ups after my second child was born, when I was struggling with the isolation and lack of support to parent my newborn son and my two-year-old daughter. I struggled to be the patient and empathetic parent I wanted to be. And then at times, I questioned whether being a patient and empathetic parent was the right thing anyway. I had made a conscious choice to raise my children in the poorest neighborhood in Canada . . . Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). There were times when I questioned this choice. Then one day, my daughter said something, which showed me exactly why I parent this way and why I choose for us to live here.
It was Canadian Thanksgiving evening, on a dark, cold and rainy Vancouver night. My four-year-old daughter and I were coming back from my Yoga Studio (Canada’s first free or by-donation studio which is located in the DTES) and boarded a #20 bus. After we sat down and the bus pulled away I realized that we were sat in the middle of two men who were having some form of conflict. It appeared that one was deliberately trying to provoke or wind-up the other, and the other man, who had a long white beard, was taking the bait.
We’d only traveled one block when the bus driver dramatically applied the brakes, just stopping the bus in the middle of the road and announced “I’m calling the transit cops, and we’re not going anywhere until they come.” The man who I was assuming was the provoker, got up, forced the bus doors open and ran off. The man who was being provoked with the long white beard was still venting his anger and seemed unaware that the man had exited the bus or that the driver had called the transit police.
Then many of the passengers started vocalizing their feelings by shouting “Just shut up. Look what you’ve done now,” “shut up and calm down,” or my favorite, “For fuck’s sake, there is a kid on this bus.” All the comments just seemed to fuel the anger in the man with the beard.
My four-year-old daughter just turned to the man with the long white beard, and in the calmest voice just said “I see you feel very angry.”
That’s what she said.
I cannot even begin to describe the shift in energy that I saw from this man, as someone validated his feelings; showed that they could see how he felt without judgment or with intention to try and get him to change his feelings of anger simple by telling him to “calm down.”
With no judgment she just met him where he was at with his emotions.
I have always tried to parent this way, when I fully realised the power and connection of empathy and validating people’s emotions, feelings and experiences when my oldest child was a toddler. I was so proud to see her take this and be using it herself.
He talked very briefly about feeling angry and seemed grateful that someone was listening to him, then suddenly seemed to see or realize that he was talking to a little girl. Again there was another shift in him. He said that he used to have a little girl and we talked about her, although judging by his age and how talked in past tense, I assume it was probably many years ago.
When the Transit Police boarded the bus I saw them speak with the bus driver who pointed to the man with the beard. I saw the Transit Police confirm three times that indeed they were meant to be dealing with the incident with the man with the white beard who was calmly talking to the mother and daughter.
When the Transit Police finally came up they just said “Time to go,” to the man with the beard. He calmly stood up, and he and my daughter said “Goodbye” and waved to each other as he was lead off the bus by the Police.
The bus driver continued. As we were getting off at our stop he gestured his head to get my attention and said “How did she do that? How did your kid get him to calm down?”
I replied, “She said, ‘I see you feel very angry’ . . . it’s called empathy.”
He just let out a long slow whistle which I assumed to take his amazement at the simplicity, yet effectiveness of what she said.
Charlotte Watson believes in the power of validation, empathy and meeting people where they are at with their feelings and experiences. That our feelings and emotions can help guide us understanding our values but they shouldn’t overwhelm or control us. She holds these at the cornerstones of her EFT Practice where she supports mums who are overwhelmed, struggling or triggered by past traumas, to be able to parent and make decisions with confidence and clarity. Visit her website at http://www.charlotterwatson.com and find her on Facebook.