Encourage Empathy in your Child

Hello MT Parent readers! Welcome to the “Ask Flora” column, where you can ask your parenting questions (for ages 2-10), and get answers from a Licensed Counselor & Parenting Coach of 12 years.

Q. How do you encourage empathy and help your kids have ownership over their mistakes, so they say they’re sorry and make it right?

Great question! And let me 1st say that about 6 variations of this question were submitted this month. So it’s a common issue on many Montana Parent minds.  

First off, forcing an apology may be counterproductive because it can trigger our child to shut down with a “Shame-brain” response (Brene Brown).  In addition, it really doesn’t move the situation forward, and repeat behaviors are likely. Instead of an apology, I recommend what I call “solution-focused ownership”, which sounds like this:

Step 1) To encourage empathy, point out what you notice and see if they solve it on their own: 

“I see that Sam is crying, from that toy being taken away.” or “I notice sister is very upset that you took her stuffy without asking.” 

Step 2) Direct the child to take ownership to make the situation right in that moment, or to make a plan for different choices in the future (and state that plan to the person who was upset or wronged). 

“You grabbed that toy from Jackson, and now he’s sad.  What can we do to make it better?” This gives the child a chance for a “do-over”.

Or, “What could you do differently next time?”, and then ask them to state that agreement.  “Ok, next time you will ask sister before you take a toy out of her room. Great plan.  Let’s go tell sister that and give her back the toy.” 

Step 3) If the child won’t chose a way to make the situation better, then you choose an outcome for them.  

“When you choose a solution, you get to keep playing, Otherwise, there will be a sad consequence.” Ie. If the child is not willing to give back the toy, then you leave the playdate, or if they won’t trade toys, the toy they stole goes away until tomorrow.  Whatever outcome you choose, it will be most effective if it is something you have the power to enforce. 

Over time, using these 3 steps should be a positive way to help the child to take ownership for their mistakes, in a solution-focused way.



Click here to view the full magazine article in Montana Parent Magazine.

To get more sanity-saving strategies for parenting young kids, join Flora’s Free Facebook Group: Sustainable Parenting.  Questions for the next issue or wins/questions from this issue can be submitted to contactflora@gmail.com. A special thank you to those who submitted our 1st questions!

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