Scenario 1: You come home from a hard day at work, start explaining to your spouse what went wrong, and they say something like, “You just need to not care so much, anyways, what’s for dinner?”

Scenario 2: You come home from a hard day at work, and tell your spouse what happened. They say something like, “That sounds soooo frustrating!”

The dance we do when interacting with others relates to emotional attunement, or emotional harmony. When you are emotionally attuned, the interaction feels…well, harmonious. Which scenario demonstrates emotional attunement, to you?  Most people would choose Scenario 2, as in this case, the other person made an effort to “be on the same page” as you.

However, it’s not always as simple as making your best effort to show someone you’re there for them. We’re not mind readers, and it can be hard to know what another person needs from you when they’re having a tough time. And when it comes to interacting with our children, this process can feel like even more of a guessing game.

As a parent, you are constantly using your instincts to reach out and sense how your child is feeling, and what they may need from you to feel supported. Without even knowing it, you’ve used your parenting superpowers to develop what I call an empathy language with your child. It should come as no surprise to you then, that by no fault of your own, when this empathy language falls out of sync as in Scenario 1, it can leave your child feeling frustrated and invalidated.

Since we know what we need to see from others to feel heard, why not ask our children what they would like to see from us? Use the components of empathy language below to allow your child to identify what works, and does not work for them when they’re feeling down. You can print out this page and have them check off the boxes that describe things they would like to see from you.

What is your physical empathy language?

Touch: I like when you put a hand on my shoulder when I’m sad. I don’t feel so far away from everyone if I can get a loving nudge you. 

  • Give me a backrub.
  • Hold my hand.

Hug: Sometimes, I just need a hug, it’s that simple.

  • Let’s hug it out.
  • Can we snuggle?

Look me in the eyes: I need you to stop what you’re doing and really listen. I know that you’re listening when you’re making good eye contact with me.

  • Get down to my level so you’re not towering over me.
  • Sit with me.

Hold Space: When I feel sad, I can get overwhelmed by everything. I just need you to keep some space between us while I’m feeling all the feels.

  • I’ll be fine! Just let me freak out for a sec, stay with me, just don’t touch me.

What’s your emotional empathy language?

Listen: I need you to just listen, and let me sort out my ideas. It feels good when I know you seem interested in what I’m saying, and let me talk it out for as long as I need.

  • Say things like, “That’s super real”, “I can see what you’re going through”, “Tell me more about ____”
  • Let me drive the conversation. I need to talk it out for a few minutes and use you as a soundboard to collect my thoughts.

Help brainstorming solutions: I want you to help me make a plan. Sometimes I just need someone to remind me what my main goal is and help me organize my thoughts.

  • Ask me what has worked for me in the past to remind me what I can do.
  • Offer me some suggestions for reaching the goal I’ve explained, but then let me choose which suggestion I like best.

Tell me you get it: I just want to feel like I’m not completely losing it for feeling this way. It helps when you can show me that my feelings and thoughts are real and valid.

  • Tell me it’s OK to feel a bunch of powerful feelings all at once, and that it’s a natural reaction to the circumstance.
  • If you’ve never been through a similar situation, you can still show me that you get it. Just say something like, “I can only imagine what it’s like to go through that; it sounds like you’re feeling really _____”

Leave me be for a while: Give me some time to myself, you don’t need to worry about me, this is just how I process my emotions.

  • You can send me a text telling me you’re here for me when I’m ready. I’ll respond once I’ve collected my thoughts.
  • Let me just go to my room, I’ll feel much better if I can have some time.

Are you the parent of an anxious child? Get more resources at www.gozen.com