Practicing empathy--becoming an empathetic individual--requires time to observe your child, to understand him and capture his mood or his emotions through such details as a subtle furrowing of the brow, an unrecognizable expession in the eyes, a harsher gesture or a grunt we didn't recognize.
But we can't always connect empathetically. Sometimes it's due to external circumstances: the school bell will ring within the next 10 minutes; we're about to go into a meeting which we must attend. Or it's because we ourselves are flooded with emotions when we see our children upset or anxious. Or simply it's because we're furious with their grades or that they lost their cellphone yet again.
In these situations, it's best to postpone the conversation and the empathetic work until we can give ourselves the space to calm down. A hug, a wink or a loving text message will let them know we're connected to them. If we are very annoyed, we'll let them know at precisely what time the conversation will take place.
In any case, as parents we must be aware that we won't always be available to accompany our kids everywhere, all the time. This is why we should slowly feed an affection savings account within our children--a sort of piggy bank packed with many moments of empathy, small as they may be. It won't always be possible, it won't always work, but in the long term, empathy will become a lot more fluid.
And when your child feels the need to be understood and there's nobody there to fulfill that need, he'll be able to access some of those moments in the savings account.
Translated from Spanish by Kate Estivill.