Having empathy in everyday life is important, but it's also crucial for creating a supportive connection with your child.
So what is empathy and how can we use it? In this episode, we talk about the process of empathizing, and discuss the benefits for you and connecting with your loved ones, while keeping shame and anger at bay.
From dealing with a sensory meltdown to other moms who aren't going through what you are, empathy provides us with tools to raise the emotional intelligence of everyone in the room. And, while it's not always easy, empathizing with your little one can create a safer and calmer space for you to come together in difficult moments.
By putting on your sensory goggles, you can understand why they're doing something and then assess their needs from there, building rapport and trust in the process.
We identify the different types of empathy, chat about managing real-world scenarios, and cover specific language and questions you can use to deepen understanding.
Lastly, we love hearing from you so we've started a new section at the end of each episode where we answer your questions!
The importance of teaching empathy, especially for special-needs kiddos who may struggle with it.
What is empathy and how it will benefit your mental health and everyone around you.
Empathy creates safe spaces and will allow you to bond more deeply with your child.
As a therapist/caregiver, empathy creates deeper bonds of trust and genuine rapport.
Using empathy with your little one models and teaches them how to be empathetic.
3 different types of empathy.
Some options of how to respond when your child is having a fight/flight response.
Specific vocabulary and questions you can use.
Empathy allows you to put on your sensory 'goggles' and view the world differently.
Asking the right questions to naturally create a pathway to empathy.
How to do safe sensory activities with a little one who puts everything in their mouth.
What to do if your kiddo is being aggressive towards a pet.
“Everyone is going through something, and you never know what they're going through.” — Rachel Harrington[0:03:38]
“When you can have empathy for a child then it teaches that child how to have empathy for others.You're also modeling and teaching the child.” — Jessica Hill [0:04:54]
“Emotionally intelligent and effective leaders are aware of their feelings and can explain them.” — Rachel Harrington[0:06:18]
“They need to know that you are there with them and you are happy to help them. Take a minute and pause, and be present with them and see what they need to thrive, to get out of that fight or flight response.” — Rachel Harrington[0:11:58.4]
“Ask questions. Ask, what does your child need? Why are they doing this, what is causing them to have the meltdown? And if you can answer those questions, you’ll be able to empathize with them.” — Jessica Hill [0:14:43]
[0:00:01.4] RH: Hey there, I’m Rachel.
[0:00:03.1] JH: I’m Jessica and this is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapists, and educators live happy and healthy lives.
[0:00:12.2] RH: We dive into all things sensory, special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.
[0:00:24.6] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.
[0:00:32.1] RH: Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of All Things Sensory by Harkla. You're listening to Rachel and Jessica, your good friends. Welcome if this is your first podcast episode you're listening to, or welcome back if you are a Lifer. This is episode 175. Now, what are we talking about today, Jess?
[0:00:52.6] JH: We’re going to talk about empathy. And if you’ve listened to any of our other episodes, you’ve probably heard us say empathy at least once in most of our episodes.
[0:01:04.6] RH: Yes, it is a very important topic when we’re referring to sensory kiddos. And what we mean by sensory kiddos are kiddos who struggle with sensory processing and modulation.
[0:01:18.1] JH: I do think that while we are specifically talking about sensory kiddos here, empathy is just a good thing to have for anyone. Especially in today’s weird, crazy, internet, social media-obsessed world is - have empathy for the people you're watching, you're interacting with. You don’t know what they’re going through, you don’t know – I mean, you just don’t know, so just. Yeah, that’s what we want to talk about.
[0:01:42.6] RH: Hey, that got deep.
[0:01:44.7] JH: It’s such an important thing to have I think, it’s hard, it’s a really - it can be really hard to have empathy sometimes.
[0:01:51.5] RH: A lot of our kiddos struggle with empathy but also, I think a lot of us adults struggle to teach empathy, and we don’t realize that we have to teach that.
[0:02:02.2] JH: Yes.
[0:02:04.0] RH: What is empathy? What’s the definition?
[0:02:06.5] JH: Okay, empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It’s a skill that falls into emotional intelligence. Have we done an episode on emotional intelligence?
[0:02:22.8] RH: We’ve done an episode on self-regulation.
[0:02:26.3] JH: We should do one on emotional intelligence.
[0:02:28.6] RH: Add it to the list!
[0:02:29.7] JH: Okay.
[0:02:30.7] RH: Many of our children, like we said, struggle with this skill but today, we’re actually talking about you, the adult, the therapist, the caregiver, the teacher. Whoever you are listening, if you have in the past, or if you are working with children, you need to be able to have empathy for a variety of reasons.
[0:02:48.6] JH: First of all, it allows you to discover why. It allows you to discover the reason behind what the child is doing. Whether the child is having a meltdown or seeking sensory input that is interfering with their day, whatever they’re doing, if you can have empathy for them, you’re going to be able to find out why. That’s always the first step.
[0:03:11.6] RH: Yup. It allows you to provide a safe place for the child to do what they need to do without anger or shame. It’s so easy to feel resentment towards a kiddo who is struggling, or towards maybe another family or another mom who isn’t going through what you're going through. I just think it’s so important to – like Jessica said, everyone is going through something and you never know what they’re going through. Not only are you providing a safe space for your child to work through the sensory meltdown, the tantrum, whatever it is, we have to make sure that we’re providing a safe space for our friends and our families and strangers as well.
[0:03:59.1] JH: For sure. Empathy also creates a bond between you and the child. It helps build trust because you're not coming from a place of anger or frustration, you're coming from a place of empathy and attempting to understand them. And that that just creates such that safe space, that trust, and that bond.
[0:04:21.2] RH: One of the core values of being a great therapist is building rapport. We have to be able to build rapport with our clients and with our client’s families, and if we don’t have empathy and we can’t empathize with them, it’s going to be really hard to fake it until you make it.
[0:04:40.5] JH: Probably impossible, I think.
[0:04:43.0] RH: Yeah.
[0:04:42.6] JH: For sure, because you’re not being genuine at that point.
[0:04:45.3] RH: No. You have to be if you're going to be a great therapist and change lives.
[0:04:49.2] JH: For sure. The last thing. I think Rachel mentioned this already but when you can have empathy for a child then it teaches that child how to have empathy for others. You're also modeling and teaching the child.
[0:05:06.9] RH: We’re not saying this is going to be easy, we’re not shaming any of you.
[0:05:10.9] JH: It’s really effing hard. I almost said the real F word but I know this is a family podcast so I’m keeping it under lock but it is really effing hard, you guys.
[0:05:19.8] RH: It’s hard to just put your feelings on the back burner and put someone else’s feelings and thoughts first.
[0:05:31.8] JH: If you're a parent and maybe you’ve had a really long stressful day and your child is just getting on your last nerve, it is really hard to have empathy for them.
[0:05:45.0] RH: It takes practice, it takes patience. Let’s talk about this article we found that talks about three different types of empathy. Who knew there are three different types?
[0:05:54.3] JH: I know, I really liked this. Now, this article came from a place of a leadership development - developing leadership skills, but I thought that it really applied to everything we’re talking about.
[0:06:06.2] RH: Love it.
[0:06:07.1] JH: Yeah.
[0:06:08.6] RH: The first one is cognitive empathy and this is the ability to understand another’s perspective. It requires leaders to think about their feelings rather than feel them directly. Emotionally intelligent and effective leaders are aware of their feelings and can explain them.
[0:06:25.8] JH: I know, you know, this says leaders but I think when you’re working with a child or when you’re raising a child, you’re teaching a child, you are the leader to that child, so this definitely applies.
[0:06:33.2] RH: You’re the leader, yeah, for sure.
[0:06:34.0] JH: This is the key to figuring out why the child is doing what they’re doing.
[0:06:41.4] RH: The next one is emotional empathy, and this is the ability to physically feel what another person feels. So if Jessica’s getting a tattoo, then I should be able – I just saw your tattoo, then I should be able to physically understand how painful that was.
[0:06:58.5] JH: I don’t think you want to but I appreciate it.
[0:07:02.3] RH: That was just my quick example. This type of empathy really helps people to feel attuned to another person’s emotions and it provides the ability to feel other’s emotions quickly without deep thinking.
[0:07:14.2] JH: Okay.
[0:07:15.3] RH: It’s like, you see someone, you talk to someone, you feel what they’re feeling, you can connect with them.
[0:07:21.9] JH: Yeah, for sure. The third one is, empathic concern and this is the ability to sense what someone else needs from you. This is other-oriented in the sense that it involves feeling for the other person, such as feeling sorry for them, sympathy or concern, and then knowing what you can do for them to help them.
[0:07:45.0] RH: Okay, three different kinds. We’re not saying you have to teach all of these different types of empathy to your kiddos but it’s so important to be aware of these.
[0:07:55.9] JH: Yeah.
[0:07:59.1] RH: Jessica and I were thinking, how often do you sit back and think, “I wonder what my kiddo is thinking right now? I wonder what they’re feeling, I wonder what they need? Why are they doing what they’re doing? What do they need from me, what do they need from their environment, what do they need from …” insert the blank.
[0:08:17.0] JH: Yeah, those are the questions that you need to ask in order to have empathy. Maybe write them down on a piece of paper on a sticky note, put them on your fridge so that they’re there and you can see them when you most need those questions.
[0:08:33.1] RH: I will give you a little example, I’ve got Trip here who is a year old and if he’s upset, if he’s crying, if he’s pulling at my legs while I’m in the kitchen, I’ll stop and instead of getting mad at him, saying, “What do you want, why are you crying?”
[0:08:49.9] JH: Don’t do that.
[0:08:51.0] RH: I’ll ask him or I’ll ask myself "He’s seeking connection, he’s not seeking attention. So I pick him up and I help, I have him help me do something and I connect with him on his level and what he needs in order to fill his cup, basically.
[0:09:08.3] JH: Yeah, totally. I think we’ve talked about this before is that behavior, all behavior, is communication. So if we can see it as the child needing something, then we can ask ourselves, “What do they need, why do they need it? Why are they having this meltdown?" Is it because the fire alarm was going off and they can’t regulate and process that auditory input, it’s too much for them to handle, they’re not just screaming for no reason.
[0:09:40.5] RH: Yeah.
[0:09:26.1] JH: We just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company Harkla.
[0:09:43.1] RH: Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs live happy and healthy lives. Not only do we accomplish this through the podcast but we also have therapy products, digital courses, and a ton of free resources on YouTube and our website to try to bring holistic care to you and your family
[0:10:00.2] JH: Listeners of the All Things Sensory Podcast get 10% off their first purchase at Harkla with the discount code “sensory.” We would highly recommend checking out some of our bestsellers like the compression sensory swing, the weighted blankets, and of course, our course on sensory diets and the primitive reflexes.
[0:10:18.2] RH: The cool thing is that one percent of each sale gets donated to the University of Washington Autism Center to support autism research and fund scholarships to families in need to receive in-clinic therapy for their children.
[0:10:32.0] JH: Learn more about Harkla and all we have to offer at harkla.co, that’s harkla.co and use the code “sensory” to get 10% off your first purchase. That’s “sensory” for 10% off.
[0:10:50.3] RH: Don’t forget that all Harkla orders come with a lifetime guarantee and free shipping. All right, let’s get back to the show.
[0:10:58.7] RH: Yeah, I think let’s talk about the fire alarm example. I think that’s – let’s go through a little empathy example. If you are in bed sleeping at night and the fire alarm goes off at 2:00 in the morning, it wakes you from a dead sleep.
[0:11:11.0] JH: That’s the worst.
[0:11:12.1] RH: Do you have a fight or flight response?
[0:11:13.9] JH: 100%.
[0:11:15.2] RH: Okay, when a kiddo at school is unprepared for a fire drill that goes off and they are screaming and plugging their ears and losing their mind.
[0:11:24.4] JH: Hiding under the desk or running away.
[0:11:26.3] RH: That is a fight or flight response and it is the same challenge.
[0:11:30.2] JH: Yup.
[0:11:31.2] RH: Okay.
[0:11:32.5] JH: In that situation, what would you do?
[0:11:35.1] RH: Empathize.
[0:11:36.3] JH: Obviously. Maybe you need to go to them and get down on their level, maybe you need to just put your hands on their shoulders, give them a big hug. I know that sometimes in schools that’s not necessarily appropriate, or it’s not deemed appropriate, but what can you do to help that child, in that moment when they are having a fight or flight response?
[0:11:58.4] RH: They need to know that they are there with them and you are happy to help them. You are not just shoving them in line saying, “Let’s go, it’s time to go.” Take a minute and pause, and be present with them and see what they need to thrive, to get out of that fight or flight response.
[0:12:17.1] JH: Then I think in some situations, it might be beneficial to ask the child questions. Now, a lot of times when a child is having a meltdown, the less words the better because they can’t process those words in the moment but sometimes you might be able to ask the child, “What do you need? What can I do for you?”
[0:12:36.9] RH: Or give them two choices, “Do you want headphones or do you want earplugs?” and you can hold them up. You can say, “This hand for headphones, this hand for earplugs” and they can tap your hand.
[0:12:47.6] JH: Then I think the other thing is just letting them know, we’ve already said this, I feel like we’re repeating ourselves, but letting them know you’re there. You can say things like, “I hear you, I see you, I see that you’re upset. Let’s take a break. Let’s get out of here.”
[0:13:04.8] RH: I’m happy to help. I’m here to help.
[0:13:07.8] JH: I’m here when you need me.
[0:13:09.2] RH: Yep, let me know when you’re ready.
[0:13:10.8] JH: That’s one that we’ve used a lot is the, “Let me know when you’re ready.” You are telling them, “I see that you’re not ready yet but I am here for you when you decide that you’re ready." That’s really good for those kiddos who have maybe a little more control, and maybe they are having a behavior because they are upset at what they can or can’t do. You let them know, “Okay, well this is the situation. This is what we’re doing. I am here when you are ready, let me know.”
[0:13:37.1] RH: Yep. Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it takes a while.
[0:13:40.3] JH: But it also takes consistency.
[0:13:42.6] RH: For sure, yeah, and everyone on the same page, which is challenging.
[0:13:47.7] JH: Yes. Okay, let’s wrap it up because I feel like I mean, that was it.
[0:13:52.6] RH: Yeah.
[0:13:53.1] JH: Just empathize. Just do it.
[0:13:57.7] RH: Being empathetic towards our kiddos, especially our sensory kiddos, helps us to learn to put our sensory goggles on and view the world through a sensory lens, because we all have sensory systems, and we all process the world differently. So once we learn to respect everyone’s unique sensory needs, their sensory differences, we could support everyone so much better.
[0:14:21.2] JH: Yeah, so just try it. Just practice.
[0:14:25.8] RH: Just try it. Make the conscious shift. It is like the conscious parenting -
[0:14:30.8] JH: Revolution.
[0:14:31.8] RH: Yes, the conscious empathetic revolution.
[0:14:36.3] JH: Ooh, should we try it like that?
[0:14:38.1] RH: No, I’m sure it already is.
[0:14:40.4] JH: I think the biggest takeaway here is - ask questions. Ask, what does your child need? Why are they doing this, what is causing them to have the meltdown? And if you can answer those questions, you’ll be able to empathize with them.
[0:14:57.1] RH: Yep. All right, that wraps up our Empathizing With Individuals Who Have Sensory Differences episode. We are starting a new thing.
[0:15:09.6] JH: Yeah, this is our second episode.
[0:15:11.2] RH: A new series.
[0:15:12.0] JH: Where we are doing this at the end of our episodes, we’re going to answer a couple of your questions that you have sent us on Instagram and yeah, this is our second episode doing this.
[0:15:22.9] RH: Yep, you can submit your question via Instagram, send us a text, send us a voice memo.
[0:15:28.7] JH: If you send us a voice memo then we can play it on the podcast and you can have a radio voice just like us. I think that would be great.
[0:15:36.9] RH: Make sure if you’re a therapist, you are following HIPAA guidelines and you aren’t giving any specific details or identifying information. You don’t have to share your name, anything like that, but these two questions were from my Instagram - @thesensoryproject208 - and they were relating towards the littles because I share a lot about Trip and what we do with him. So that is what these questions are in reference to.
[0:16:05.6] JH: Okay, so the first question is, “I have a 12-month-old who puts everything in her mouth. How do I help with that and still be able to do safe sensory activities?”
[0:16:16.1] RH: Yes, so we love to do sensory bins, beans, play in the grass, rocks, Easter grass, all of those fun sensory mediums. One thing that I will do with Trip, and I’ve always done with Trip, is I will just put my hand in front of his mouth and just block the item from going into his mouth. When he was younger it was a lot easier because he would just kind of stop trying after a while, but it is also normal for them to mouth these items.
[0:16:45.2] JH: I think that if you can find these sensory activities with items that are a little bit larger so they’re less of a choking hazard, you know, think outside of the box and find items that are a little bit bigger if you’re really nervous about it.
[0:17:00.9] RH: Yep.
[0:17:01.4] JH: Yeah, block and redirect.
[0:17:03.2] RH: Block and redirect. With Trip being a little bit older now, if I block him he sometimes will try to do it on purpose and continue to do it.
[0:17:12.0] JH: Such a stinker these kids.
[0:17:13.8] RH: It’s so smart.
[0:17:14.4] JH: Because you reacted but for –
[0:17:16.2] RH: But I don’t really react though. What I do is I give him a couple of chances and I just redirect and say, “No, you’re not going to eat them” and if he continues to do it then I will just, without saying anything, just close the box of beans, because that is what I’m using as my example and put it away and say, “All done beans” and I just will get up and walk away and move on to another task and so he throws a fit of course. Say, “I’m here for you buddy, do you want to play with the trucks or do you want to go outside?” and we’ll just redirect and - positive - but it’s hard.
[0:17:49.8] JH: Yeah. I do think if you – if the child is, I think – okay, disclaimer a little bit. You do want to rule out Pica in case there is an underlying –
[0:18:01.3] RH: For older kiddos, yes.
[0:18:02.5] JH: An underlying medical condition if they are trying to eat non-edible items, but 12-month-old is just exploring and putting things in their mouth, you block and redirect, move on to a different activity if needed. Even if it is just a couple of minutes of sensory play. That’s plenty for this age range.
[0:18:21.9] RH: Yep, doing something like a water sensory bin, where you just put a couple of big toys in a bucket of water outside and let them explore that, they’re not going to eat the water. They are going to put it in their mouth but it’s fine.
[0:18:34.4] JH: The items are big enough, they’re not going to swallow them.
[0:18:36.8] RH: Yes.
[0:18:37.4] JH: Yeah, I think it’s good to remember too though, for 12 months, just less than five minutes is an appropriate amount of time for this child.
[0:18:46.9] RH: Yep, another thing you can try is just using their feet, so put their feet in the beans, put their feet in the Orbeez and the sand, whatever it is.
[0:18:54.5] JH: Yeah, totally.
[0:18:55.6] RH: Okay.
[0:18:56.9] JH: Okay, what’s the next one?
[0:18:57.6] RH: Next question.
[0:18:58.4] JH: We have one more question that we’ll answer and then we’ll be done for today.
[0:19:02.7] RH: All right. “I recently found your podcast and loved the sensory diet episode. My son is a seeker and I’m learning a lot. He gets really aggressive with my small dog and it worries me, for both him and the dog. He kicks him and hits him, my dog is always being put away and it makes me sad. Do you have an episode that you think might help me with that?” Well, we’ll do you one better and we will give you some suggestions here.
[0:19:27.2] JH: I think this is perfect for this episode because you need to have empathy for your child and figure out why he is being aggressive with the dog. Is he kicking and hitting because he’s angry? Because he’s excited? Because he is seeking proprioceptive input?
[0:19:43.7] RH: Because he gets a reaction?
[0:19:45.5] JH: Yep, what’s the reason?
[0:19:47.2] RH: Find the why, first of all. Now, with dogs, they’re a little unpredictable so my first thing would be to model and role play. You know, safely petting a dog, safely interacting with the dog. If the kiddo wants to hit the dog, maybe they can throw a ball instead or they could give them a treat instead.
[0:20:09.5] JH: Yeah, positive reinforcement for those expected behaviors with the dog is going to be huge, so if you are practicing petting the dog, say something like, “I noticed how gently you’re petting the dog today. That’s so kind, I love how gently you’re petting the dog." Something like that.
[0:20:26.8] RH: Yep. And then also, I would suggest offering something that, since he’s a sensory seeker, offering something that he can be aggressive with safely like a stress ball or a fidget, a pillow.
[0:20:40.7] JH: I was thinking a punching bag if he is hitting and kicking, a punching bag would be great and you’re in the middle of petting a dog and he starts to get a little aggressive. You can say, “Oh, it looks like maybe you are wanting to hit and kick some things. Let’s go to the punching bag really quick, and then we can come back and pet the dog when you’re done.”
[0:20:56.9] RH: Then one more thing would be to have a social story. Read through the social story every day that you put together. “My name is Joe. I love dogs. I love my dog, Luna.”
[0:21:11.4] JH: That’s such a cute name for a dog.
[0:21:14.2] RH: “I love being soft to her. I love petting her. I love giving her treats. Sometimes I squeeze her too hard and she gets upset. When I feel like I need to squeeze her or hit her, I’m going to go punch my punching bag instead and then come back and give Luna a treat.” Talking through the situation with a social story, a visual, can be really helpful.
[0:21:42.1] JH: Yep, do the social story and then just practice and remain consistent.
[0:21:47.3] RH: Yeah. Okay, I hope that helps.
[0:21:49.3] JH: Yeah.
[0:21:50.6] RH: Thank you for your questions. You could always send them to us on Instagram @allthingssensorypodcast or @harkla_family, Facebook, email.
[0:21:59.7] JH: Let us know your thoughts on this episode. Leave us a review on iTunes if you have 30 seconds, which, you have 30 seconds to leave us a review.
[0:22:06.9] RH: Heck yes.
[0:22:07.7] JH: For sure, and thanks for being here.
[0:22:09.7] RH: We will chat with you all next week.
[0:22:10.7] JH: Okay, bye.
[END OF DISCUSSION]
[0:22:11.5] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Things Sensory by Harkla. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the show notes.
[0:22:23.0] JH: We always have the show notes and links, plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone. If you have follow-up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the show notes, or message us on our Instagram account, which is @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you’ll find us.
[0:22:42.6] RH: Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10% off of their first order at Harkla, whether it is for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code “sensory” will save you 10%. That code is “sensory.” Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now so you don’t forget.
[0:23:05.2] JH: We’re so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a more happier healthier life.
[0:23:12.6] RH: All right, we’ll talk to you guys next week.
[0:23:16.6] JH: Just a friendly reminder: This is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics, and sensory integration. We do not know you or your child, therefore we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information.
BORING, BUT NECESSARY LEGAL DISCLAIMERS
While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.
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