Counselling Skill: Empathy
Empathy is one of the most important skills that parents can have when speaking to a child about something that is challenging for them. Empathy is shown by both one’s verbal and non-verbal language. When a parent is showing empathy through words, they are showing understanding and care to the issue being discussed. An important thing to remember is to connect NOT correct. Connect means to show the child you connect to what they are saying, by validating their feelings and concerns. Things parents may say are:
- Oh, that sounds like it would be pretty tough
- I understand where you are coming from
- It must be hard to be in that situation
- I can see why you would be upset/angry/frustrated
These types of phrases help to connect to the student, rather than correct. Our instinct as parents is to offer advice or suggestions. But, in counselling, giving advice is not advised 😊 Try to get the child to find solutions to their own problems, while connecting to the child through language. It is ok to offer suggestions, but not to give a suggestion as the only option.
Our non-verbal language can show empathy through body language. When sitting with a child who is sharing personal information, it is important to:
- Close up any electronic devises that could be distracting (laptop, phone)
- If possible, pull a chair up to the student, so that there is not a table or desk between the two of you
- Focus on the child by making appropriate eye-contact
- Try to not show too much facial emotion if you are surprised or shocked. These non-verbal cues may make a child feel uncomfortable
These types of non-verbal actions help to show empathy because it creates an environment where the child feels safe.