IMG_3780When I have a long and difficult day with my children and I tell a friend, I want:

I hear you.

When I get a speeding ticket and I tell a friend, I want:

I hear you.

When I misplace something valuable, I want:

I hear you.

Ultimately, when I feel lousy, it doesn’t matter why.  I just want to know that I am heard, exactly as I am.  I want to know that someone hears my deep emotion and connects with me in that place before they offer advice, criticize, or help.

Our children want the same thing.  To learn empathy, they need the same thing.  They need to know they are heard

  • When they do not want to go to bed, really don’t want to go to bed, they need: “I hear you.  You really don’t want to go to bed.  I understand.  How can we save your project until tomorrow?”
  • When they don’t want to get their shoes on, or buckle in the carseat, or leave the park, or say goodbye, they need: “I hear you.  You don’t want your shoes/to buckle/to leave/to say goodbye.  I understand.  How can I help?”
  • When they don’t want to hold your hand in the parking lot, they need: “I hear you.  You don’t want to hold my hand.  I won’t let you walk without holding my hand because it isn’t safe.

Of course, the whole of working with young children is not as simple as this.  There is more to a relationship with children than these words.  But mastering these three words has been one of my most powerful tools in my work with young children.  In order to appreciate the deeply transformative power of empathy, I just have to think of a time when I felt discouraged/wronged/tired/frustrated/angry and imagine what I would like from my community in those moments.  And then it makes sense.

When a human being feels heard and understood, they are validated for their honest and whole expression and freed to continue to live a whole and integrated life.

Three of the most powerful words you should say to your children?

I hear you.