Communicating with children and teens (and really anyone!) through empathy, compassion, and validation is SO much more effective at forming stronger connections and resolving any conflict or problem. As you read the statements below, notice what type of emotions they bring up in you. They may sound silly if you grew up around criticism, judgment, and control. But we heal and thrive through empathic communication! Try it…not for any other purpose but the fact that it is the RIGHT way to treat other humans (other added benefits are better emotion regulation and problem solving in children 😉).
“You really wish…”
Get in the habit of saying, “You wish…” This validates the child’s desire and gives them their wish in a fantasy. Here are some examples:
- “You really wish to attend the sleepover with your friends this weekend”
- “You really wish to get into your top college”
- “You really wish for us t spend more time together”
- “You wish that I would have a different reaction to you when this happens”
“I have confidence that you will…”
Saying “I have confidence that you will be able to do this” shows a child that we trust them to do the right thing and increases the likelihood that they will actually do it.
“Then you really feel that “
Say “Then you really feel that…” This labels the child’s feelings and brings them into conscious awareness so that they can manipulate, process and resolve them.
“It would be helpful if we prepared dinner together”
Instead of giving an order, try saying, “It would be helpful if…” This gives the child the pleasure of being able to initiate the help themself, which is very encouraging for children.
“You seem pleased at having finished the puzzle yourself”
When a child is successful at something, say, “You seem pleased at having finished the puzzle yourself.” This gives the child a conscious awareness of their ability to create their own satisfaction.
“It can be frustrating when the toy doesn’t work”
If a child is struggling with a task, say, “It can be frustrating when the toy doesn’t work.” This shows you share and appreciate their struggle, and that their effort is valuable. This respect gives them the strength to persevere.
“You hate it when grandma gives you tight kisses”
Say, “You really don’t like it when (PERSON) pinches your cheek/touches your hair/gives you hugs.” This validates their feeling of annoyance and their right to have their boundaries respected.
“You’d like to go places more often, now I know”
If a child says, “We never go anywhere”, instead of arguing, reflect, “Oh, you’d like to go places more often, I’m glad you told me about it, now I know.” Notice you didn’t have to promise any trips but have simply recognized their feeling.
“I see you are unhappy with how your drawing turned out”
When a child paints a picture that they do not like don’t try to insist it’s really good, but reflect, “Oh, I see you’re not satisfied with the way your picture turned out. You don’t really like it so much. You don’t like the colors.” This gives respect for the child’s opinions.
Dr. Hasti Raveau is a child and family psychologist and the founder and owner of Mala Child and Family Institute. Much of her work is focused on helping children improve their emotional well-being, supporting parents on their parenting journeys, and empowering families so they can heal, grow, and thrive