com·pas·sion [kuhm-pash-uhn] –noun
sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it
Our children often experience distress. I’m hungry. I’m tired. I’m dirty. I’m lonely. I’m hurt. I’m sad. I don’t like green beans. I’m frustrated at the toy that doesn’t work. I don’t want to share my toy. I don’t want to wear the itchy shirt. I NEED the candy in the check out lane at the store. I’m mad that you won’t let me have it. The list could continue on and on. It is a compassionate parent not who prevents distress but who displays a “sympathetic consciousness” of her child’s distress and a “desire to alleviate it”. NOTE: I did not say a parent who gets annoyed by the whining and gives in.
A compassionate parent in empathetic and affirming of his child’s emotional distress. Even when it seems ridiculous. I ask parents not to yell, use sarcasm or dismiss (“suck it up”, “stop crying it will be fine”) a child’s emotional response but rather to get down on her knees, look into the child’s eyes, and respond sympathetically “wow, you really want that candy bar.” Then listen! Don’t preach, don’t tell your child the ten reasons why she can’t have it. Listen, respond calmly, reflect the emotion (“you are angry”), delicately guide your child. This takes time and patience, but it is a worthwhile investment in teaching your child emotional intelligence and self-regulation (more on these two topics later).
Finally, a compassionate parent puts his own needs aside and is fully present. A present parent isn’t thinking about work, cleaning, cooking, the phone call he needs to make, the bills or any of the other hundreds of things that flood parents minds. In a parenting moment, this parent is thinking only about his child and having “sympathetic consciousness”. This skill is one that researchers in the field of attachment have called attunement. According to this important research (I will talk about it more later), attuned parents are able to best meet their child’s needs and provide the most solid foundation for healthy development. I would say it is a goal worth having.
One final thought. I was recently trained in a wonderful parenting approach called Nurturing Parenting (www.nurturingparenting.com) and they introduced me to a great tool to assess my day to day nurturing skills. According to this approach there are two competing continuum of behavior. One is Nurturing. The other is Hurting. At any time you are on a scale of 0 to 10 of both. For example if I am on an 8 for Nurturing then I am on a 2 for Hurting. The thought here is that there is no grey area. The goal would be to parent at a 10-0 all of the time. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Maybe. Worth Trying? You bet!
Evaluate yourself today! Are you a 10-0 parent?