What happens when you make wishes with children? They believe that you understand their heart’s desire. In other words, that you have empathy for what they are feeling.
Having empathy for a child enhances your relationship and can make parenting easier. Having empathy for the adults in your life enhances those relationships as well. Having empathy for yourself helps you to be emotionally healthy and enables you to have empathy for others.
Empathy is the respectful understanding of what someone (yourself or another person) is feeling and experiencing. You accept that the feelings are real—not made up to annoy you, not a sign of a moral flaw. Don’t try to suppress or minimize the feeling(s), simply acknowledge them.
Empathy means you are able to see a situation from another person’s perspective. Empathy doesn’t mean that you always agree with the other person’s point of view, just that you acknowledge that it exists.
It can be extremely difficult at times to be empathetic. It can also be challenging to convey to the other person that you have empathy for them. In the classic book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, authors Faber and Mazlish suggest using wishes as an effective way to convey empathy. Listen and think about what that person (or you) would wish for: “You wish ___(the fish was still alive; Dad didn’t have to be gone for work; all the children were snug and quiet in their beds).” Listen and describe a fantasy that the person would want: “You wish you could wave a magic wand and make it all better.”
I have found that using wishes is particularly helpful when what the other person would wish for is NOT something that is feasible or that I would want to be part of or help to make happen. Using “wish” implies that the desire may not be gratified, but that I respect that the other person really wishes it could be.
Some guidelines for using wishes.
Respectful tone of voice. Most of us have used the phrase “You wish” in an extremely unempathetic tone. Say it sincerely.
Make it positive. Not “You wish your brother would disappear” but “You wish your brother would leave your toys alone.”
Exaggeration can help. “I wish we were already home. I wish that the car could transform into a helicopter and fly over the traffic and land in our driveway!” Exaggerated wishes provide distraction and help the person transition to another activity. Exaggerated wishes can transform whining into a game.
Originally published June 9, 2013 on ParentingSuccessNetwork