Building Connections with Empathy and Grace

Although many people complain about teenagers, most of the time I really enjoy life with a teen.  Parenting a teen isn’t always easy. You learn a lot about yourself when you have a younger version of you reflecting your best and worst traits

Last night my teen was being so “extra”. You know what I mean. Extra needy, extra inflexible and extra argumentative. She was feeling stressed about her end of year exams and an upcoming trip abroad. Everyone in the house feels the tension when she is stressed.

Her constant pushback after asking my advice was about to send me over the edge. I could feel myself getting frustrated and ready to snap. Then just like in a scene from a movie I had a flashback of an interaction I had with my husband earlier in the day.

You see when I am stressed or anxious it also reverberates throughout our house. As my poor husband was sharing his research on solving our air conditioning issue I was inflexible and argumentative. Each time he shared a solution I argued back that it wouldn’t work.

Instead of raising his voice or getting frustrated my husband took a deep breath. He moved across the room, sat down next to me, put his hand on my leg and said, “I can tell you are really struggling with your anxiety. We are on the same team and I am here to help”. Instead of leading with anger or frustration my husband led with empathy and grace.

This memory changed the direction of the interaction with my daughter. I was able to see her struggling. I understood that this “extra” behavior was not purposeful or malicious. She needed my help.

It was my job to lead with empathy. Putting myself in her shoes and remembering what a wild ride the teen years are. It was also my job to give her some grace. She has only been on this earth for 15 years. That is not long enough to have all the skills you need to manage those big and often intimidating feelings.

As parents and educators we need to create connections based on empathy and grace. We need to understand that a child’s struggle does not define them. We need to find the root of the problem. We should be proactive guides armed with the tools and strategies that will help them move past this bump in the road.

One of my favorite quotes by L.R. Knost sums this up perfectly. “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join in their chaos.”