Brené Brown is a researcher at the University of Houston whose work centers on shame, empathy and vulnerability. She has written several books and speaks all over the world on these important topics, which have a dramatic effect on the ways we live, work and raise our children.
I just love this segment of one of Brené’s presentation’s about empathy that was turned into an animated clip.
She speaks about a topic that is so important for everyone, of all ages, but I especially love it as it applies to parenting. I know as a mom, I often want to “silver lining” things for my kids. They are struggling and having a hard time, and I want to help them feel better. I want to turn an unhappy situation around. My first instinct is to go for a response that minimizes the negatives and emphasizes the positives. It’s like I want to make my kids forget about what’s upsetting them so we can get back to being happy. To brush it under the rug.
But Brené makes an excellent point in that rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.
Instead of silver-lining things to help my kids feel better, I need to meet them where they are with those heavy feelings. I need to sit in the dark with them. I need to be present and not try to sweep their feelings under the rug just because they are unpleasant, but reach out and connect so that they know what they are feeling is normal. Only then will the weight of those feelings be lifted.
Here’s the difference between “silver lining” and “sit-in-the-dark” responses:
Child: “My friend was mean to me today. He didn’t want to play with me and just left me to play all by myself!”
Silver lining: Well, you still have your other friends to play with.
Sit in the dark: Oh, I know you were looking forward to playing with your friend today. You felt hurt when he didn’t want to play.
Child: “I am losing this game AGAIN! I ALWAYS lose at games!”
Silver lining: That’s not true; you do great at games! We’ll play another one, and I’m sure you’ll win the next time.
Sit in the dark: It’s so hard to lose a game. You feel really angry. I bet you wish you could win all the time!
Child: “I am trying to build a blanket fort, but it keeps falling over! One part won’t stay when I let go, and the other part isn’t tall enough. I can’t get it right!”
Silver Lining: What do you mean? This is a great fort! Look, you have a little cave you can hide in!
Sit in the dark: Oh that sounds frustrating! It’s not working out as easily as you hoped? I wonder if there’s something you could do to help make it more stable.
Child: “I’m trying to do this magic trick, but it’s not magic at all! It doesn’t even float in the air like the picture shows!”
Silver lining: But now you have a cool magic wand to play with. You can use it as a prop with your dress-up set!
Sit in the dark: Yeah, the picture makes it look different, doesn’t it? That must be disappointing. You wish the wand would float all by itself, so you could see real magic.
Sitting in the dark with our children means understanding that their feelings are real. It means not minimizing them or trying to wash them away but validating and embracing them. It means teaching kids how to feel. We may not necessarily agree with a child’s feelings, but we must communicate that we accept them. This is the essence of connection.
We must listen not with the intent to respond but with the intent to understand. ~Steven Covey