The first step in helping upset children and adults: Empathy

Sometimes you might think that an adult is acting like a child when they have an emotional meltdown. They have an outburst just like a child might.

You may be tempted to become judgmental and tell them to “act like a grown up” but that won’t help the situation. It’s better to understand that they are overcome with emotion and need someone to help them through this distress. Perhaps no one has ever taught them how to manage their emotions or it might be that today they are simply overwhelmed by events.

You could learn a lot from Ross Greene’s book The Explosive Child: Parenting children who frequently exhibit severe fits of temper. These excerpts are courtesy of my favourite blogger Eric Barker.

Actually, these skills apply in a whole range of cases, but it is good to learn from someone who has developed techniques for use in extreme situations.

Steps to empathy

It is not helpful to try these things when the child ( or adult) is highly worked up. Wait until a quieter moment. Address the problem before it becomes another nuclear explosion in your house or at work.

The purpose of the empathy step is to gather information from the person in meltdown, to understand his or her concern or perspective about a given unsolved problem.

Ross Greene’s magic formula for the empathy step:

“I’ve noticed that…” + (problem) + “What’s up?”

As an example you might say for a child who doesn’t want to go to school.

“I’ve noticed we’ve been having difficulty when it’s time to go to school. What’s up?”

Be calm and gentle. It isn’t an argument nor an interrogation. You may get an answer like “I don’t know” which is perfectly understandable. They don’t necessarily know. Be patient, ask questions, and encourage them to talk. Try to find out why this problem occurs when it’s time to go to school and not at other times. Apart from that, the important thing is to keep your own mouth closed. This is not a time to give your analysis of the situation or to offer solutions.

Be patient and gently ask questions. Don’t judge. This formula can work for anyone who is having difficulty and needs someone to listen them so they can work out what is really going on for themselves.

Stay tuned next week for the second step.