How to be a more empathetic parent

Author and psychologist Shefali Tsabary explains why the key to being an empathetic parent is to look within yourself.

Photo: Penguin Random House

Photo: Penguin Random House

There are so many things to worry about as a parent. Are they being challenged enough at school? What is Minecraft doing to their brains? Are they hanging out with the right people? Will be able to find a job? The list goes on and on. We worry because we want to be the best parents we can be and we want our kids to be the best they can be. And sometimes we have clear ideas of what that should look like. But, as psychologist Shefali Tsabary argues, our best intentions might be backfiring. Those expectations we set can cause harm and disillusionment. Parents, she says, need to recognize their kids for who they actually are. Rather than trying to mould our kids in a certain way, we need to let them truly express themselves. In her new book, The Awakened Family: A Revolution in Parenting, Tsabary suggests ways in which we can control our expectations while raising confident kids. In this follow-up to her New York Times bestseller The Conscious Parent, she uses Eastern and Western psychology to further explore the idea of self-evaluation as a means to break down the barriers of traditional parenting.

Tsabary has been featured on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday and Oprah’s Lifeclass, and has spoken at TEDx, Kellogg Business School and the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education. We spoke to her to find out how parents can become more empathetic.

Why do you think this approach strikes a chord with so many parents?
It shows parents how they can consciously handle many of their daily struggles with their children and find empowering solutions to their conflicts. Most importantly, this book helps parents to pave a path toward their own higher state of consciousness, awareness and mindfulness.

What do you think of our parenting culture?
The current paradigm of raising children is not working. Our children are stressed beyond belief as they race toward adulthood, barely enjoying the few years of childhood that they have a right to. We need to shift from the need of “fixing” our children and instead focus on our own self-growth and self-development. It is only when we turn the spotlight within ourselves that we will be able to best raise our children. It is time for us parents to seriously examine all our belief systems around parenting, because these belief systems are heavily doused with fear and anxiety. Once we do—and I show you how in this book—we will be able to more enjoy the journey of parenting and consequently free our children to do so as well.

What are some questions parents can ask themselves to become better parents?
The main questions they need to ask are: What about this dynamic/partnership/moment/relationship is about me? What am I bringing into this moment that doesn’t belong here, but instead is from my past? How can I best allow my child to stay authentic to their true spirit without projecting my fantasies and expectations onto them? How can I best heal my own emotional wounds so that I do not burden my children with them? How can I be my most authentic self so that my child can be theirs?

How do you move beyond your past? Isn’t your past part of your authentic self?
Absolutely it does. The journey toward authenticity involves becoming aware of the conditioning we received as children and how this obscured our connection to our true selves. As we become more and more aware, we are able to uncover the layers of false selves we have inherited from our parents. Through this unlayering, we eventually come back to our essence. The more we value our essence, the more we value it for our children, working diligently to maintain our children’s connection to it.

What are your top three tips for being a more empathetic parent?
1) Be attuned: An empathetic parent is deeply attuned to who their children are at any given moment in time and is fully aware of their spirit at all times.

2) Be non-reactive: An empathetic parent has worked on their triggers well enough to stay calm in the face of conflict and stormy interactions. They are able to stay non-reactive and balanced during negative interactions. This non-reactivity allows them to stay connected to their children as opposed to disconnected.

3) Be present: An empathetic parent understands the importance of staying connected and present with their children. They are able to be in the moment with their children without bringing the past or the future into it.

So in being non-reactive, how can parents respond to a kid who’s really mad? What can parents do in this kind of situation?
When our children are “mad,” it behooves us to not react in a “mad” way ourselves, as this only serves to compound the situation. It is only when we are in a state of calm and balance that we will be able to help our children return to their most sane selves. Otherwise it is akin to having two “mad” people going at each other’s throats—what good is that? I encourage parents to discipline their own reactive energies by remembering that our children’s mad feelings are a cover-up for their pain and hurt. If we can see our eyes on their inner feelings, then we are able to detach from the surface behaviours. Every “mad” behaviour is due to inner pain.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Read more:
About to lose your temper on your kids? Do this instead
How to help your kids like themselves more now
Why introverted kids are awesome

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