It’s Not All Mary Poppins

too much empathy

Nissa, trotting along the hall, takes a small tumble and looks up, checking for response from any adults in the vicinity. Typical toddler behaviour.

And of course, my response is practiced. In situations like this, you don’t ask them how they’re feeling, you tell them. A beaming smile and a cheery comment shows the child this wasn’t a biggie, and they pop up and trundle happily on their way.

Except there’s a parent in door (not Nissa’s), who is in Nissa’s direct line of sight. A nice parent. A kind parent. A well-meaning parent. A parent who is about to annoy the heck out of me. She crumples with doting concern, her voice oozing pathos. “Oooo, sweetie, are you all riiiiight?

Great. So instead of my hearty “you-can-handle-this” message, Nissa’s getting the limp “oh-you-poor-delicate-flower” message. I wince and wait. It takes less than a second.

Nissa crumples into tears. Whyever not? She’s just been informed that’s what’s expected, and furthermore, been told that any tears will be enveloped with great swaths of time and attention. Having ensured the tears, the nuisance parent mom can now utter words of consolation. “There, there, little Nissa. You will be all right.”

Yes, she will. In fact, she was fine until you told her otherwise with all your ooey-gooey empathy. There is a time and a place for empathy. It is smart, however, if you don’t want to be knee-deep in tears all the damned time, to make sure that what you’re empathizing with is what the child’s actually feeling. In this case, the mom projected the tears into that pause between stimulus and response. When she looked up for adult response, Nissa wasn’t unhappy. She was surprised, certainly. But she hadn’t yet decided how to respond.

In that instance, why on earth wouldn’t you nudge them in the direction of cheerful resilience?

Meantime, the mom is still oozing, and Nissa is lapping it all up, her wails getting louder as mom’s fluttering reassurances continue.

Bah. Hustle out that door, woman, so Nissa can stop crying.

Thank you so much.

January 7, 2010 Posted by | Nissa, parents, Peeve me, socializing, the dark side | , | 13 Comments