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Empathize. Encourage. Equip. How one mom did it

Julia was fed up. Her kids fought nearly every request and Julia was at the end of her patience. The daily power struggles were beginning to define their relationships as the kids grew more discouraged and Julia more determined to stop the “misbehavior.” So Julia sought help.

Julia’s description of the turmoil made it clear that there was more going on than mere misbehavior. We discussed how kids’ “misbehavior” is often just the tip of the iceberg of hunger, discouragement, anxiety, or tiredness. We explored some strategies for helping Julia choose a different way to approach her kids’ challenges. She went away with a resolve to better understand the “under the surface” stuff with her kids, and with some ideas about helping them better understand themselves. A couple weeks later she wrote this update:

We had a couple great victories recently. On Wednesday my daughter Ashley started falling apart because she was struggling with schoolwork. My natural impulse was to get frustrated and anxious, but instead I stayed calm and helped her in a compassionate way. Instead of ordering her to calm down I made and showed her a little list of the possible “under the surface” factors:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I tired?
  • Do I need to switch subjects?
  • Do I need something to drink?
  • Do I need help?

In this list Julia had sent a new and powerful message to Ashley: “I care about why this is hard for you. With a little help you can figure out what you need in order to be successful.”

The tide had turned. Julia’s note continued.

Ashley filled out the list by putting 4 checks by “I am tired”. So I suggested some ice water in her fun Rapunzel cup with the crazy straw and then rubbed her back while she drank it. She went back to work, turned her attitude around and did great the rest of the day!

On Friday she started falling apart again while doing homework. I took out the list again and reminded her of how great we both did on Wednesday.

Can you feel the difference? Julia’s approach became encouraging instead of discouraging. Ashley was still accountable to do her work, but in an environment of support instead of control and criticism. But Julia’s note wasn’t done.

I snuggled with her, tried to make her laugh and reminded her that she is “my sunshine girl”. I also added some silly humor from a movie that we watched recently. When we had a little playful momentum going, I said, “Let’s add to the list”:

  • Do I need to tell my mom how awesome she is?
  • Do I need to serve my smart, beautiful, awesome mom?

Then Ashley added:

  • Do I need my mom to sing opera and dance to “Call me, Maybe”?

With a little dancing and singing we turned it around again and she got through her school work, with both of us really having fun and enjoying each other. I’m so excited about the victory of empathizing, helping Ashley communicate about her needs, and being playful. I am hopeful. Yay!

Are you kidding? Dancing and singing during homework?

We are not kidding. This actual struggle was transformed to a powerful connective dynamic because a mom came to understand that below the surface of apparent misbehavior can be a whole host of complicating factors. This realization helped her empathize and encourage on the way to equipping her daughter to better manage those complexities.

The simple process here: Empathize. Encourage. Equip. Julia did it. So can you!

Jim Jackson

— by Lynne and Jim Jackson

The Jacksons are writers, speakers, parent coaches, and co-founders of Connected Families Ministry. Visit their website at www.connectedfamilies.org to learn more.