Quickly Avoid Power Struggles with Children Using Empathy

Sometimes I get wildly angry at screens—whether an Xbox or TV—and my children’s inability to end their session the second I ask them. If I wasn't so frugally and environmentally driven, I might be tempted to throw screens out of moving vehicles and second story windows.

But then, my empathy kicks in; sometimes faster than other times. I remember what it’s like to be deeply immersed in something and suddenly asked to stop. If I’m engrossed in reading a book, texting a friend, writing a letter, or brushing my teeth, it’s unlikely that I’ll stop doing the activity at the exact moment I am asked—it pretty much never happens! So why do I expect my children to have end-screen-session-right-now skills?

Boy playing video gamesAll children are different. Everyone’s ability to shift and transition between activities varies. One of my observations is that the more I extend empathy to my children when ending screens sessions along with giving them a few minutes heads-up as the end time is near, they are more responsive, respectful, and appreciative. 

I also have learned that follow-through is essential. If I say only five minutes more, then I had better be there in five minutes to push the power button off myself or to collect the device. I used to be hesitant to set such a strong boundary for fear of tantrums, but I have to say, turning off the power, or putting my hand out to collect a device, does not generally cause conflict. Rather, it says, “I love you, I have boundaries, and the five minutes is up.”

However, a crucial point in this method is making a previous arrangement with the children where we previously discussed and agreed on the consequence of not shutting down screen time when the time is up. This drastic measure of pushing the power button off isn’t dominance justified by disobedience; the response is mutually agreed upon and done in a lovingly firm way. 

Empathy is about understanding and validating another’s emotions. It is not pity, it is not, “I am sorry.” It is letting the child or person know that his or her feelings are “felt” by you. Some expressions of empathy for the above situation might sound like this:

  • “It’s frustrating to have to end your screen time mid-game.”
  • “Ending something that’s fun can really be disappointing.”
  • “Yeah, I know ending screen-time is a bummer.”
  • “It’s difficult to end a game you’re enjoying, isn’t it?

Using empathy when setting limitsIt can be challenging to drum up empathy especially when we’re stressed. Another thing that makes us revert to impatience or demanding is that many of us haven’t even received empathy or had this skill modeled for us. It can feel fake or weird to say the above statements (at least at first).  But if we can practice saying empathetic statements from our HEARTS, from a place of LOVE for our children, and from a place that says, “I want you to have fun, and it's time to quit.” Eventually empathy becomes more natural; it gradually becomes a part of our regular communication.

Empathy has been around for many years, but it is becoming a more intentional piece of interpersonal relationships in our modern times. I have given and experienced empathy, and truly, it works wonders. 

For more positive parenting tips or to learn emotional intelligence, check out Heartmanity's parenting resources.

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Britta HubbardBritta Hubbard
Britta Hubbard has been a parent educator, working within the framework of Redirecting Children's Behavior, for four years. Conducting classes, introductory seminars, and over-the-phone sessions to help individuals with their parenting challenges. She has been a Middle School Family and Consumer Science teacher for six years empowering adolescents in personal development and financial education. Her work was featured in Dr. Harry Wong's First Days of School publications and presentations. In addition to these occupations, Britta Hubbard faces her own joys and challenges in navigating the demanding landscape of being a parent of two young boys. She currently lives on Colorado's Western Slope and spends as much time as possible drinking herbal tea with her husband, sons, family, and friends while gazing at the beauty of the world around her.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting