Peaceful Parenting and Empathy

Yesterday, Chloe (my 5-year old daughter) got off to a bad morning because we had ran out of milk and Chloe had an expectation that Kendrawould purchase milk the night before. Chloe’s frustration of feeling powerless to obtain her own physical sustenance manifested itself in numerous behaviors that caused discomfort to the other family members.

One of these manifestations was that Chloe was complaining in a loud enough volume to be scaring the other children in the family. I understood Chloe’s feeling of anger and frustration to come from an inability to manager her anger in non-destructive ways. We all have anger, even as adults, but as adults we’ve hopefully learned how to channel that anger into productive ways (ie. exercise, breathing techniques, etc). Chloe is still developing those skills.

When I got home, I used physical force to contain Chloe to my room and told her the following:

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[My first goal was for Chloe to feel as though she’s being heard and understood through empathy.]

Chloe, it is okay for you to feel angry. Do you feel angry? Then please tell me you’re feeling angry. Please yell at me that you’re feeling angry. I can handle your anger. You’re not going to get in trouble for feeling angry. Let it all out. I can take it.

Sometimes Daddy gets angry too. Remember when I play loud music in the garage and lift weights and I make loud noises like, “Grrrrrrrr.”

You have a lot of anger inside of you, and let’s try and get it out. Here’s my hand. Punch my hand as hard as you can to get it out. Let me help you get that anger out of you.

[My second goal was for Chloe to understand that the physical restrictions I was placing on her was for the safety of others, and not simply artificial punishment imposed by me.]

It’s okay for you to feel angry, but you’re not going to be able to leave this room until you promise me that you won’t be talking so loud that it’s scaring and hurting the ears of Genna, Jack, and Vincent.

Do you like it when Genna or Jack screams in your ears? When Genna screams in your ears, you want Daddy to stop Genna from screaming in your ears, right?

When there are bad guys, Daddy protects you. That’s why I have guns. Sometimes Mommy, Genna, and Jack may do bad things inside the family, and Daddy has to tell them to stop as well. That doesn’t mean they’re bad guys, but sometimes we do bad THINGS to each other.

In the same way that I’m required to protect you, I’m also required to protect everyone else in the family if you’re hurting them with the volume of your voice. So I’m not letting you out of this room until you promise to stop hurting them with the volume of your voice.

[My third goal was to teach tools in how to manage her anger in healthy ways.]

You have a lot of anger inside of you. How about you and me we go to the garage and listen to some loud music with the yelling and screaming, and we can get out your anger and scream as loud as you want?

Or we can go to the garage and you can play the drum set to get that anger out of you.

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After this talk and some drumming in the garage, Chloe had much of her frustrated energy released and was in a more relaxed state that I typically see her in. I had to leave the house immediately due to date night. Upon reflection, I’ll probably have another discussion with Chloe that, if she hasn’t already, that she should be apologizing to the people she’s hurt with the the volume of her voice, if she cares to maintain a good relationship with them.

This will come from a place of explaining natural consequences of destructive behavior on relationships, rather than using artificial consequences to force an inauthentic response from Chloe. A true apology must come from empathy, and not from the threat of force, violence, or emotional manipulation from the outside.

My ability to reason and empathize with Chloe (and for her to listen) has been built on a foundation of trust and love that Chloe knows I have for her. Not because I simply told her with words, but because I also demonstrate it consistently in my actions in the various discussions we have with one another. There’s no additional emotional baggage of confusion or feelings of fear that Daddy will use violence or use emotional manipulation.