This morning, my 4 year old daughter screamed, “I hate you! You’re the meanest mom in the world!” as she ran up to her room, tears streaming down her face.
In the past this would have left me shaken with emotions. I would have simultaneously felt hurt, sad, betrayed, and angry. I might have even yelled back, “Well, I don’t like you either!” But after 19 years of parenting, today I do things differently.
I allow her to have the last word, to have her emotions, and to choose to storm up to her room. This “allowing” includes allowing both of us time to calm down. It allows me time to process why she is so angry and hurt. And it allows me to find empathy for what she is feeling, to respond to her emotions rather than to react to her behavior.
This morning, when this happened, I chose to find empathy. I took a few deep breaths and then walked up to her room. I sat down next to her and calmly said, “Wow. You are really mad at me. I can see that you didn’t like it when I said, No. You don’t always like my rules. And that is so hard for you. I know that I feel angry when I can’t do what I want. I can understand you’re angry and unhappy with me. I can see that you are hurting. I love you AND my answer is still no.”
Today I try to see and feel what is beneath her reaction and her words. By doing so, I model empathy and appropriate emotional expression. I allow her to have her feelings. But I don’t allow her emotions to become my emotions.
– by Lily Maino, M.S.