Parenting with Empathy and Respect — it works

I know that gentleness and respect “work.”  It’s the foundation upon which I ran my infant/toddler classroom and the way I now interact with my own one year old daughter. Sometimes though, in the midst of a difficult situation, I overlook the obvious.  It’s nice to be reminded through interactions, like this one, of the power of empathy and respect:

Stella had a fever before bed last night (teething), so I gave her some Tylenol.  She has been HATING taking it.  I had to give it twice the day before (which is a lot for a mom who RARELY gives meds!) and she cried and got very worked up both times.  I had to put the syringe in her mouth with her resisting.  I kept telling her it was yummy (even though I tried it and it was disgusting) and tried to make a game out of it by pretending to drink it myself — “Mmmm!  It’s good!  Look, Mommy’s drinking it!  Here, you try!” — but it just made her more upset.

Last night, the same thing was happening, but then I realized that she could see right through the tricks (duh).  She knew that I was being fake and dishonest with her and she was probably feeling very unheard.

I stopped and said, slowly, calmly, and kindly, “Stella, I know you don’t like the way this tastes and you don’t want to drink it.  You have a fever and your teeth hurt and I have to give you medicine.  It will help you feel better.  Will you please take this medicine?”  She looked at me for a moment and then reached out for the syringe with a cringe-y look on her face (like she knew it was going to taste bad) and she put it in her mouth.  I pushed a little out and she swallowed it, made a “yucky” face, and turned away.  I said, “Thank you for taking some of your medicine!  There’s still some left.  Will you take some more, please?”  She did the same thing over and over until it was gone.   I said, “You took all of your medicine!  Thank you so much!”  She looked at me with a big smile.  I picked her up and she laid her head on my shoulder — a stark difference from the day before when the medicine-giving ended with a teary-eyed, distraught one-year old and a mommy who felt the same.

She totally didn’t want to take the medicine, hated the way it tasted, but was cooperating because I empathized with her and gently invited cooperation rather than trying to force compliance.  Wow!!!