09/02/2014 12:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It's Hard to Be a Kid! Tips for Compassionate Parenting

Sarah Rudell Beach

"Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a kid?!" My 7-year-old once asked me, during a particularly heated mother-daughter exchange.

I don't even remember now what had caused my daughter to try to convince me of the hardships of first-grade life. My initial reaction to her proclamation was internal eye-rolling, along with thinking, "Being a kid is hard? Are you kidding me?" as I mentally ticked off all the hard things that her grown up mama does -- working full-time and cooking dinner and cleaning the house and making beds and paying bills and doing the grocery shopping .. until I felt ready to be honored as a martyr at the Festival of Mothers Who Think They Work Really Hard and Deserve Recognition Every Day (check your local newspaper for an event in your area).

Let's just say it was not a very skillful response.

As I thought about it a bit more, I realized how silly my reaction had been. Yes, as we adults look back on our childhood through our rose-colored (coke-bottle thick, circa-1983 round-frame) glasses, being a kid seems carefree and easy and full of whimsy. Coloring at school! Playing games! Riding bikes! How could that be hard?

But you know what? Everyone's hard is hard. It's all a matter of perspective. I wanted to know more, so I asked my daughter why being a kid was so hard.

Her first answer didn't surprise me. "Well, because you don't have your own phone, and you can't eat in the living room."

I asked if anything else was hard about being a kid. "Someone else is the boss of you," she replied. I asked if there was anything else. She said no, and ran off to play with her brother. (Such an easy life!... Oh, wait...)

I thought some more. What else is hard about being a kid? Well, sometimes, we don't really take kids seriously.

There are times when I've responded to my children's tears with "It's not that bad," or "You don't need to be upset about that." Because as a wizened adult, I of course understand that a cancelled playdate or a lost Power Ranger is no big deal. But for my little ones, who live almost entirely in the present moment, it is a big deal.

Sometimes, when my children get angry and yell, I've told them, "You don't really mean that." And though they very likely didn't mean it (because I am certain they have not conducted the necessary research to determine that yours truly is the worst mother in the world), it sends them the message that their emotions are not valid.

We don't intentionally ignore these opportunities for connection, but sometimes, in crazy-busy-hectic moments of parenting, we respond unskillfully. We don't take our children's perspective, and we miss an opportunity to practice compassion.

Compassion literally means "to feel with" or "to suffer with" another person. It means seeing something the way they do, and experiencing it with them.

Here's what I've learned about being a more compassionate parent, especially in the moments when compassion may not come readily:

1. Empathize with them, even when they sweat the small stuff.
The other day, my daughter had hoped to play with her friend after school, but her friend was busy. Within approximately 12 nanoseconds of us walking in the door, she threw her coat and shoes on the floor, and started sobbing hysterically. I hadn't even taken off my coat, and in my frustration was tempted to say, "It's okay, it's not a big deal!" Instead, I gave her a big hug. I remembered the cues from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and said, "You seem really sad." She then poured out how she had gotten so excited when we pulled up in the driveway from school, and was looking forward to playing, and now she couldn't.

I empathized, telling her that sometimes I get upset when I'm really looking forward to something and then it doesn't happen. I snuggled with her in the rocking chair for a few minutes, and she settled down as we talked about making dinner together. What could have escalated into a long crying jag and a night of pouting instead ended with a smiling little one.

2. Tell them how much you wish you could fix it.
This doesn't mean doing it for them or solving their problems for them. It's letting them know you wish you could make it easier. This also comes from How to Talk so Kids Will Listen, and it works great with my 5-year-old (seriously, that book is incredible). When my son couldn't find Iron Man the other morning before we left for school, he cried as I buckled him into the car, screaming that we HAD TO GO LOOK FOR HIM! I simply said, "I wish I knew where he was! I wish we could have found him this morning." And he began to calm down.

Those little words let our kids know that we understand. It lets them know we care and that we really do wish it was better {and not just because we want the whining to stop. Well, maybe a little bit because we want the whining to stop.}

But it lets them know we get it.

3. Watch them while they sleep.
Sometimes they're a lot cuter at night. Watching our children sleep is a powerful nightly meditation, reminding us that they are NOT their tantrums and outbursts. This ritual reminds me of the sweet little ones underneath the crying and yelling and drama of daytime. It absolutely makes me more compassionate.

4. Understand it IS hard to be a kid.
They follow other people's rules all day, and then come home to their parents' rules. They have strong emotions that they can't label or understand, let alone regulate. They get upset about little things because they don't have decades of experience and perspective to guide them.

And they can't even eat in the living room. That sucks.


This post originally appeared on Sarah's blog Left Brain Buddha. You can follow Sarah on Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+.