Empathy, vulnerability, and getting kids to listen (and talk to you)


I’ve been fascinated lately with the concepts of attuned relationships (especially parenting/reaching children) especially encouraging listening, and opening up about emotions and thoughts.  I always begin with investigating sensory issues, and drilling down as to whether the child is overwhelmed by the environment/sensory input they experience.  This helps to determine if the child is able to be in a calm, alert state where they can listen focus and learn (and not being hijacked by their limbic /‘danger centre’).


The other significant contributing factor in the child’s emotional state is whether they feel ‘heard’ and understood by an attuned carer.


Some great research has shown the effectiveness of empathy (I see/hear you/me too)  compared with sympathy (I feel for you). 

(Professor) Brene Brown has researched this area for many years and is inspiring in her clarity of how powerful/debilitating and endemic shame (the feeling of “I am bad/awful”/not good enough) is.

She describes the ‘Shame shields’ – defense mechanisms of ‘armouring up’ against shame which can take the form of ‘moving away’ (running away) ‘moving towards ‘(people-pleasing) or ‘moving against ‘( being combative) – and this is an ‘aha’ lens to use when looking at some children’s behaviours. 

Shame shields:




Brene has some great You tube talks and a highly successful TED talk.  Her website has free downloadable information/posters for parents and anyone looking to lead their best life


Additionally on this topic, I have been devouring a series of books derived from the work of Dr Haim Ginott, psychologist, whose ground breaking work has shaped attuned parenting practices (with an emphasis on fostering caring compassion and commitment)   – namely the “How to talk” series by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

These practical workbook style books outline the principles of attuned parenting with lots of real-life examples and simple clear illustrations on the areas of:

  • Helping children deal with their feelings
  • Engaging cooperation
  • Alternatives to punishment
  • Encouraging autonomy
  • Praise
  • Freeing children from playing limiting roles
  • Putting it all together


Titles include ‘ How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk’, Siblings without rivalry,’  “How to talk so little kids 2-7  will listen’, ‘How to talk so kids can learn at home and at school”, ’How to talk so teens will listen and listen so teens will talk”


The principles of listening and empathizing are central in this approach and are tempered with the need for parents/carers to express their feelings and expectations while working together to brainstorm solutions, all while minimizing shaming, blaming and maximizing creativity and humour.


Occupational therapy looks at the bottom-up (sensory, brain/body somatic issues) as well as the top-down( cognitive, emotional, educational) approaches.   Please contact me if you wish to discuss this further or have an appointment to look at how this can help your situation.