Discussing Feelings and Building Empathy

“You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.”

– John Steinbeck

For all the anxiety and exhaustion our little T often causes us, one consistent strength we can always count on is his caring nature.

Last summer, during an after dinner outing to the playground, an older boy, who must’ve been nine or 10, got stung by a wasp.

He started crying. All the other kids started running away from the playground & one over-the-top kid screamed, “Everyone stay away from there!!!” Cue big eye roll from me.

T stopped peddling on his tricycle and kept staring at the boy from afar.

I explained the boy got stung. T saw the boy standing by himself, so he got off his tricycle and went into the “danger area” while the older kids stood around the perimeter.

The boy’s mother arrived. She was upset and told me the boy’s friends dared him to disturb a nest.

The entire time I was talking to her, T had his hand on the boy’s back. He had a genuine look of worry. Remember, this is a hyperactive kid who can’t sit still or focus on one thing for two seconds. He then hugged the boy!

I still remember this moment so vividly. Almost a year later, I’ve been thinking about this moment as families around the world are self isolating.

The hubby, T and I are in constant contact 24/7. This means there are inevitable moments during the day when one of us loses our cool or we get on each other’s nerves from the stress of being confined in our home during a pandemic.

I was not raised in a household that talked openly about feelings. When a parent lost their cool, there was never a talk about what happened. You just moved on.

Our sweet T has a prognosis of at-risk FASD. One common thing about these kids, according to the research, is they often lack social cues to navigate in a social situation and it may affect their ability to have lasting friendships.

That makes me sad. Very sad. But there’s always reason to feel hopeful with our T.

In the four years we’ve been a family, I’ve observed strong caring qualities. For every moment he pushes our buttons, I can think of many more when he’s expressed care, like when I’m lying in bed sick or when he asks one of his parents to apologize to the other for making them upset.

One of my favourite memories is when we made our first visit to his future daycare when he was not even two years old. There was a room full of crying toddlers and T walked up to one of them and hugged them!

There has been a lot written about empathy and how to build it. I am not an expert, but one thing we try to do in our home is to talk openly about our feelings and thoughts, even those that may not be positive.

I’m often the one lying in bed with T after bedtime stories and we take the time to talk. He’s 5, so these are not deep conversations.

But I tell him about my day. If I had a good day, I’d tell him why. If I had a not so good day, I tell him and I add that it’s ok to have not-so-good days. You learn to move on and you do.

Similarly, when I get upset, I try to talk about it after. I ask him why he thinks I got upset.

Mind you, we’re not always successful. We’re humans. But I like to believe these conversations make an impression.

Now that we are homebound indefinitely during this pandemic, building empathy and understanding is even more important.

We see each so much that losing our patience or cool is inevitable, especially with a child with challenging qualities like T.

I remember one recent difficult night. It was past 10 and T was still up. I just had it and lost my cool. I retreated to my room in a huff. A few minutes, I hear a light knock on the door and T walked in. “I’m sorry I made you mad,” he said quietly and then reached out for a hug.

I was still pissed off but by the smile on his face, he knew he did well. And how could I stay mad for long at that?

5 thoughts on “Discussing Feelings and Building Empathy

  1. …”we take the time to talk.” I suspect that that is the key to what sounds like a marvelous job you are all doing. Thank you, Ab, for sharing this post, as you have just helped me to have a bit more faith in humanity: faith that I really need these days.
    Stay safe, all of you,

    1. Thank you! 🙂 Despite his challenges – some of which will be lifelong – he is a great kid and I am hopeful his strengths will help him in life.

Leave a Reply