R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
temperament left her feeling anxious, fearful, and easily overwhelmed in new situations. It was not unusual for Sally to seek refuge behind her mother when people she did not know visited the Carter home. Both of the Carters were outgoing and were perplexed by Sally’s cautiousness and fearfulness, especially since they viewed themselves as supportive and loving parents. They felt that Sally could be less shy “if she just put her mind to it.”
The Carters became increasing frustrated and embarrassed by Sally’s behavior, prompting them to warn her that if she failed to say hello to others she would be lonely and have not friends. They frequently asked her after school if she had taken the initiative to speak with any of the children in her class. These kinds of comments backfired, prompting Sally to become more anxious.
Mr. and Mrs. Carter, desiring their daughter to be more outgoing, failed to appreciate that Sally’s cautious demeanor was an inborn temperamental trait and could not be overcome by simply telling her to “say hello” to others. They were to discover that each reminder on their part not only intensified Sally’s discomfort and worry but also compromised a warm, supportive relationship with their daughter.
In parent counseling sessions the Carters learned that they could assist Sally to be less shy, but they first had to reflect upon how their current actions and words impacted on their daughter. They had to ask, “If I were shy would I want anyone to say to me what I say to Sally?” or “Am I saying things to Sally that are helping or hindering the process of her becoming more comfortable with others?” In essence, these kinds of questions helped them to assume a more empathic stance. Both parents learned that telling a shy person to try to become less shy is often experienced as accusatory and not as a source of encouragement.
Mr. and Mrs. Carter informed Sally that they knew that it was not easy for her to say hello to people she did not know and added that it was not easy for many other children as well. They said that maybe working together with Sally they could figure out steps she could take to make it less difficult to greet others. These comments served to empathize and validate what Sally was experiencing and also to convey a feeling of “we’re here to help, not criticize.” Finally, they communicated to Sally, “Many kids who have trouble saying hello when they’re young, find it easier as they get older.” This last statement conveyed realistic hope. And hope is a basic characteristic of a resilient mindset.
Being empathic permitted the Carters to communicate with Sally in a nonjudgmental way and in the process they nurtured their daughter’s resilience.
2. Communicating Effectively and Listening Actively. Empathy is closely associated with the ways in which parents communicate with their children. Communication is not simply how we speak with another person. Effective communication involves actively listening to our children, understanding and validating what they are attempting to say, and responding in ways that avoid power struggles by not interrupting them, by not telling them how they should be feeling, by not derogating them, and by not using absolute words such as always and never in an overly critical, demeaning fashion (e.g., “You never help out”; “You always act disrespectful”).
Resilient children demonstrate a capacity to communicate their feelings and thoughts effectively and their parents serve as important models in the process. When 10-year-old Michael insisted on completing a radio kit by himself and then was not able to do so, his father, Mr. Burton, angrily retorted, “I told you it wouldn’t work. You don’t have enough patience to read the directions carefully.” Mr. Burton’s message worked