To practice empathy, another person needs to be involved--someone we consider completely different from urselves, with a style, interests, feelings, emotions and tastes totally their own and separate from ours.
With our kids we generally tend to sweep away those differences during day-to-day life as a way to feel close to them. We use a language that doesn't pave the way towards empathy, because we don't see them as separate beings with unique and personal inner worlds that we should respect and understand, even though we might not necessarily share it. We leave them out, because deep down we're only refering to ourselves, using the comfort of "we."
Let's not get used to speaking for our children, thinking for them, feeling for them, and instead open the door to plenty of surprises which will most certainly begin appearing, because they will now have the space to do so. Let's use names and pronouns; let's say me, you, he and she. Each pronoun represents us as people. Let's put the use of "we" on ice for some time, while we concentrate on using this new way of expressing ourselves.
Using the corresponding pronouns helps children, and especially helps us, to place ourselves beyond them: to view them as people, to understand them. Only from this place will we be able to empathize with them, feel their pain and support them when necessary or participate in their joys by their side. And all these moments of empathy, remember, will add up in a marvellous savings account of sorts, which kids will be able to access in moments when, due to our lack of time or bad mood, we cannot be empathetic.
If we transform into beings with several heads we won't know what is going on in our children's minds, because our feelings will become those of our child. We'll lose out on what he or she is feeling. With this nuance of language choice, we'll be laying down the ground rules on differentiating individuals: an essential condition for empathy.
See the key difference between these pairs of examples?
"Shall we do some work?" / "It's time for you to do some work".
"Shall we eat something nice?" / "I feel like preparing something nice, do you fancy joining me?"
"We really enjoyed the walk!" / "I really enjoyed our walk, James, did you enjoy yourself?"
"We made pizza and it was delicious". / "Annita prepared this pizza, I only helped a little bit".
"Shall we watch TV?" / "Would you like to watch TV with me?"
"It's cold, let's put on a coat" / "I'm cold, I'm going to put on my coat".
"We're so tired!" / "I'm so tired, I'm exhausted after the hike. How do you feel?"
Translated from Spanish by Kate Estivill.