Over this past year, many of our kids have endured difficult, painful experiences. Some kids have even been traumatized by events associated with the pandemic.
Our hearts ache when we hear about children who are traumatized. A social worker with over thirty years of experience, who works for her county’s Child Protective Services agency, put it well: “After all these years, it still hits me in the gut. I mean, the things these kids go through are unbelievable. I still find myself thinking, ‘This sort of stuff just can’t happen—it can’t be real.’ No child should have to go through these things.”
Because we care, we hate the pain that they have experienced and yearn to help them heal. This motivation is wonderful. However, when we render help, we must also recognize that feeling sorry for kids isn’t the same thing as loving them and empowering them to heal. As we support our kids, it’s helpful to keep in mind the difference between sympathy and empathy.
“Feeling sorry for” someone can lead us toward unintentionally sending the unstated message:
“This is so horrible that you’ll never be able to cope and find joy in your life.”
“Loving” someone means purposefully sending a very different unstated message:
“I can’t imagine how much this must hurt. I’m so sorry this happened to you.
I’m here for you. I believe in you.”
Consider these questions:
- Which style, sympathy or empathy, is the most likely to result in the adult eventually feeling burned-out and even resentful toward the child?
- Which style is more likely to result in the child feeling manipulated?
- Which style is about the adult’s feelings? Which is about the child’s needs?
- Do these concepts also apply to kids who haven’t experienced trauma?
If you are a parent who has a kid who has experienced trauma, or if you are an educator, social worker, or counselor who works with kids who have experienced trauma, you can learn real solutions for working with kids who have challenging pasts in our Love and Logic Trauma Informed Care Online webinar.
Thanks for reading!