Wikipedia says “an explosive material is a reactive substance that contains a great amount of potential energy that can produce an explosion if released suddenly, usually accompanied by the production of light, heat, sound, and pressure.”

Is this ringing anyone else’s bells? A great amount of energy… reactive… sudden explosion…  pressure? It describes my five-year-old at around dinner time. And also myself, on the bad days.

I don’t want to be a volatile substance. I tend to keep dangerous stuff away from my kids.

I don’t want to expose my kids to stuff that would harm them, be it physically or psychologically. So over the last couple of years I have called on my own personal SWAT team to help me move from explosive parenting to empathetic parenting. This team involves supportive friends, a bunch of parenting authors, and a couple of online forums that inspire me to be the creative and respectful parent I want to be.

Empathy is the single most important trait for kids to develop. It’s the trait that will enable them to be kind teens and adults, the thing that can potentially change our world from the unjust and violent one we have to a fair and peaceful one.

When we can dig deep and treat our children with empathy it directly grows their empathy cells. (It sounds a bit like science fiction, but it is Actual Science!) There is only one thing that creates mean kids and adults and that is treating them unkindly – the empathy center in their brain literally, physically, fails to grow.

I have found several phrases to be really helpful during this steep, and ongoing, learning curve and I want to share them with you.

I believe using these consistently will move you from a place of reactive, potentially psychologically harmful communication to a place of calm and kind communication. And where our words lead, our minds will follow!

1

Explosive:

If you don’t stop fighting you will go to your room!

Empathetic:

You’re finding it hard to share that. Do you have any ideas about how you can all play without getting angry or frustrated?

2


Explosive:

Will you just stop crying!

Empathetic:

I can see you are upset. It feels as if you are feeling sad about something. Do you want to tell me about it?

3

Explosive:

STOP THAT RACKET!

Empathetic:

I can hear that you want to make a lot of noise right now. I’m finding it hard to talk/my ears are actually hurting. Please take your outside voice outside.

4

Explosive:

You’re always spilling your drinks!

Empathetic:

Oops, another spill. Let’s clean it up together. We can all be a little bit clumsy sometimes. I find it easier to not spill things if I sit down at the table for food and drinks.

5

Explosive:

You wet your pants again?!

Empathetic:

Oops, another wet pair of pants. I don’t have very many spares with me so please do try and listen to your body and let me help you get to the bathroom on time.

6

Explosive:

You had better switch your attitude!

Empathetic:

It sounds as if you’re feeling frustrated about something. I’m here to listen. (Later you can explain that you are human and you have feelings and it hurts when someone is speaking disrespectfully to you.)

7

Explosive:

You have got to eat every scrap! I spent several hours cooking it!

Empathetic:

You don’t fancy curry for tea? Please eat the rice or the bits you do like, otherwise you’ll be hungry later. And afterwards let’s plan the next week’s worth of meals together to make sure they are things you like to eat.

8

Explosive:

Hello? Can you even say PLEASE? You take everything I do for granted!

Empathetic:

I really do want to help and support you. When you ask me in a kind voice and say things like, “please” and “thank you,” it helps me feel appreciated and it makes it easier for me to help you. 

9

Explosive:

YOU KIDS ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!

Empathetic:

I’m feeling really upset and frustrated. My stomach is clenched and my brain is fizzing. I’m going to take a few minutes in the garden to try and calm down.

10

Explosive:

ARRRGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Empathetic:

*dials best friend’s number* Hi, friend! I am being driven up the wall. Can I rant and spill tears on your shoulder for a minute?

This last one is one of the most important. You need to find your own SWAT team. Parenting can be a triggering, stressful time in our lives and we don’t want to take that out on our children, but we also mustn’t bottle it up. We need friends with whom we can talk things through, who can simply listen and validate our feelings and support us with our attempts to be calmer, empathetic parents.


Our words are so powerful. For further inspiration on communicating empathetically with our children have a look at 26 Phrases to Use Instead of Stop and The One Word That Will Turn You Into A Positive Parenting Whizz.