Category Archives: Empathy

How to Manage a Meltdown
Meltdowns

Tis the season—for stress, impatience and probably some unrealistic expectations and resentment over why your family isn’t like the happy ones you see on Instagram. That means trickle down stress for your children, no matter what age. Your littlest ones may show it in irregular sleep, eating, toileting and generally cranky behavior. Your middle ones may show it in angry outbursts and words that push anyone’s buttons. And your teens may simply disappear to their rooms to get away from it all. 

But all are at risk of some major meltdowns. Mainly because children can’t hold onto as much stress as we can—note: this is a good thing—and are far more likely to let it out at home with the safest people in their lives. More good things. 

Nobody likes dealing with kids’ meltdowns. Especially kids. Please do not be influenced to ignore or threaten your child by those who say, “He’s doing that on purpose. He’s just trying to get your attention.” We’ve all had meltdowns. They’re not fun. Your kids aren’t doing it on purpose. And of course

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Are you (accidentally) invalidating your child’s feelings?
Mom with child

Are you trying to do the right thing by validating your child’s feelings only to hear even angrier tirades? Your best intentions backfire and you don’t know why. Let’s break this down to figure out why your child is reacting negatively when you are trying to empathize.

“I am understanding of how my child is feeling, but it seems to just make her madder,” is something I hear from many parents. Progressive parenting has put a lot of emphasis on validating feelings and being empathetic—rightly so. Your kids want nothing more than to know you understand them. But in our impatience to get on with what we want them to do, to correct them, we may end up invalidating their feelings without realizing it.

  1. “I understand you’re upset. You can be angry, but you have to get in the shower.” 
  2. “I get that you’re mad at your sister, but you can’t hit her.”
  3. “You’re upset you got a bad grade. Buck up. You’ll do better next time.”
  4. “A friend should never make fun of you. You need to tell her
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He’s an Integrity Kid, Not a Habitual Liar
upset child

Q. My 9 year old boy’s behavior is driving me nuts and making me feel like failure. He is a strong-willed, smart boy, who will do anything only if he likes it. There are many things he decides he doesn’t like to do or eat, and there is no cajoling that can get him to give it a try. But my bigger problem here is his constant lying. He cannot stop himself from lying and sneaking. And this
behavior is only getting worse and more sophisticated as he is growing up. For eg, he loves cookies and most often eats more than what his share is. If I suspect that he ate them when he shouldn’t and question him, he goes on the defensive and outright denies it (even with all crumbs stuck to his mouth).

Another example is every night I ask him to brush his teeth. He usually goes
to bed without brushing, and when I check if he did what he is supposed to do,
20% of the times he tells the truth but the rest is

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How to Talk to Your Kids About the Hard Stuff
Dad and Son Talking

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wrote an article called Look for the Helpers inspired by Fred Rogers. I am redoing it with the same basic
message—sadly because so much more has happened. Not only has gun violence increased, but our democracy and our climate are threatened. Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall, the recent overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the Supreme Court requires discussions with your children. How do you assure their safety at school? How do you tell them that the highest court in our nation has undermined the liberty of women?

My son just gave the commencement address at the high school where he teaches.
He too was inspired by Fred Rogers’ words:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother
would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are
helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my
mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still
so many helpers—so

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Want to Know the Secret to Supporting Your Perfectionist Child?
Anxious little girl

Q. My daughter freezes when she is asked a question on the spot or during exams because she is fearful of being wrong, not knowing the answers or not being able to complete the entire tests. What advice should I give her to help her overcome this fear?

A. Of course you want to help her deal with her fears. Most parents, I find, live by the myth that you can help your child by telling them what you have learned as more experienced human. Makes sense. You want to tell her something that will make her see the light and stop being fearful of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Advice rarely helps unsolicited.

Your daughter was likely born with sensitivities for self-awareness, a desire for approval, as well as strong capabilities. This can underscore any ideas she has of how important those capabilities are to gain the approval she wants.

As parents, most of us are unaware of how our expectations of our children effect their behavior. Of course, we want our children to do

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Basic Trust: Seeing All that Glorious Light
New Parents

As I sit blissfully holding my infant grandson, I am struck by his fragility and vulnerability. He is dependent on us, his caregivers. And we in turn look to every possible behavioral sign to determine what needs caring for. Is he hungry, tired, does he have an internal pain, does he need a burp, a suck, a bounce, a diaper change? We rotate through the possibilities hoping to land on the right one, thrilled when we do, worried when we don’t. 

When he’s content, he coos and looks around curious about all he sees. When something is wrong, he makes a pained face and cries. We answer those cries. We will do so for a good long time to come. 

Caregivers must pay attention to behavior that signals a problem the child is having—a need that must be met. As he grows, his cries turn to whines, hurts to frustration and anger. Sensations of discomfort, pain, and hunger get complicated with jealousy, confusion, shame, fear, embarrassment, anger. As he learns he is a separate entity, he understands that he can

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‘Tis the Season for Compassion
Holiday Hug

Expectations are always high at this time of year. It’s the season for joy, friendly people wishing each other cheer, generosity of spirit, and family gatherings. But just as often, it’s not for so many.

The stress and tension of buying gifts, satisfying expectant children, and anticipating family gatherings fraught with anxiety and judgement are also heightened at this time of year. Loneliness, grief, and loss feel heavier now than at any other time. Suicide statistics peak. And on top of all the usual stress, we are in our second holiday season marred by a world-wide pandemic with a new and possibly scarier variant at our doorstep. The unhappy and the sick feel more isolated, rejected, and angry at this time of year.

Now that I have fully depressed all of you, I do not mean to be a downer. What I want is to prod your compassion and empathy to understand that this season is just as hard for many as it can be joyful for others.

Can you allow a family member’s, even your child’s, sadness, depression, anger,

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