It's a rare day in our house if I don't hear some type of whining from our kids. It usually starts early in the morning, especially if it's a school day. "I don't want to go to school. I want to stay home today," my 5-year-old daughter will lead with. Taking the bait, I'll usually counter with encouraging words.
"School will be fun. You'll get to see your friends and go to music class. You love music," I say, in my most upbeat tone.
More from Parenting: The 10 Most Powerful Things You Can Say to Your Kids
I attempt to tamper my kids' whining everyday. Probably 10 times a day, I find myself trying to talk them into something they don't want to do, especially with my daughter. I'll present a multitude of fun things to look forward to throughout the school day. Some days it's a futile effort or I'm simply too tired to come up with a fitting response.
One particular Friday morning after a long week, I was too exhausted to engage in our usual dialogue. The complaints started flowing. "I don't want to go to before/after school care today. I want to be at home in my pajamas," she moaned.
More from Parenting: 4 Steps to Fit Your Parenting to Your Child's Temperament
Instead of turning into a cheerleader, I looked at my daughter through tired eyes and I said, "I understand."
Bewildered, she didn't say anything at all. After a few moments of silence, she asked, puzzled, "You do?"
"Yes," I continued. "I understand. I know exactly what it's like to have to do something I don't want to do."
"Thanks," she said as I watched her mind start to wander. "Can you pack me a treat in my lunch today?"
Huh? That was it? No more the-world-is-going-to-end-if-I-have-to-go-to-school-today sob story? I said something that worked? I started repeating those two words after every negative, whining sentence that came out of her mouth.
"I don't want chicken for dinner."
"I don't want to go to bed."
"I don't Iike going to church."
More from Parenting: Discipline Tips: Why I'm a Fan of the 'Time-In'
Every time I said those magic words, they seemed to grow more and more power. My daughter needs to be heard and validated. She needs to get it out and have her voice be recognized. Once she's done that, she can move on with her day. Empathy with children is so often overlooked as we try to pound into them our responsible, adult mentalities.
My daughter is deeply emotional. After coming home from school, it's natural for her to have some form of meltdown. She capably holds herself together all day in front of her peers and teachers, despite all the strong emotions she's experiencing. But the moment she comes home, it's tears and heartache. In the past, I would try to apply my logic to her emotions in ways that made sense to me.
More from Parenting: Mothering While Chronically Ill: How I've Helped My Children Adjust
"We couldn't go to Vivenne's party this year because we were out of town. I bet you'll be invited next year, and we can definitely try to make it next year," I'd say, trying to reason with her while she's wailing uncontrollably. My rational logic cannot rival her intense feelings. I've learned to hold her, tell her I understand, and allow this wave to crash. I've embraced the power in empathy. It's become my new secret parenting weapon.
The other morning our 2-year-old was shaking his head with force repeating "No, NO, NOO. No school today!" My daughter gave him a hug and said, "It's okay, buddy. I understand how you feel." Apparently, empathy is catching on.