I have a 3-year-old son who throws tantrums a lot. I told him not to stand in front of the door as someone may open from the other side and injure him. Someone really opened the door and the door bruised his fingers. He cried but I simply told him

I know it's painful, the person apologized, and you should have listened to me.

My wife had to hug him, and she blamed me afterwards. I suspect my patience ran out after a long day with him.

I find it hard to sympathize with people who don't believe me when I articulate the risks to them so that they can avoid it. Unfortunately when the risk materializes, I simply walk away without showing any sympathy. He throws tantrums a lot. I suspect my patience ran out after a long day with him.

I do not like my behavior.

How do I be more sympathetic towards my children's pain?

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    Are you sure a 3 year old can even understand what you're saying? I feel like chances are good that he's not even connecting the dots between "don't stand in front of the door" and "someone might open the door and injure you". One of them is an order and the other one is a fact. Heck, even if you tell him the causal relationship that doesn't mean he'll understand them...
    – user541686
    Apr 30, 2017 at 19:58
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    @Mehrdad a three year-old can understand, not perfectly, but they are smarter than you may think. It is concepts and the abstract that they do not understand. The first time they do not listen to a warning might be due to not understanding, but they learn!
    – WRX
    Apr 30, 2017 at 23:08
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    @Willow: Ah I see, good to know :) thanks!
    – user541686
    Apr 30, 2017 at 23:14
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    I think the issue here is not what you did, I think a lot of parents would empathize with you, but how you feel about it. If you feel bad about not showing more empathy, then just try to be more sympathetic next time, but don't beat yourself up about it. Remember you can't always explain things to a child in a rational way, they are not adults. Sometimes you just have to let them learn the hard way, and it's OK to be sympathetic afterwards - but also try and help them connect the dots between the cause and effect. This helps them learn to avoid the situation next time! May 3, 2017 at 3:31
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    @Nathan Even adults have some hard time trying to be rational sometimes...
    – T. Sar
    May 3, 2017 at 13:33

12 Answers 12


I do not like my behavior.

Parenting is difficult at every stage for somewhat different reasons. Children aren't miniature adults, especially at your child's age. They don't think or process like adults; they don't have a long period of time to learn 'the consequences' of simple behaviors like adults. Even some adults haven't learned yet to accept the consequences of their own actions (ever see anyone argue with a speeding ticket?)

Your particular behavior shows that rational thinking is much more comfortable to you than empathy. For anyone in any kind of pain, however, the opposite is true. They need empathy first, and rational thinking later - much later.

You might not be comfortable with empathy first, but you can choose to change your behavior. The more you practice it, the more comfortable and happy you will be using it. Positive responses from those in pain will be rewarding, as opposed to the cold shoulder you now experience.

How do I be more sympathetic towards my children's pain?

Drop the "I" from your response.

If you're tempted to use "I", it should only be followed by "...am so sorry you're hurting". Stop there. This isn't about you, how you feel about what happened (powerless), about teaching the laws of gravity or Murphy's law. It's about your child's (or, indeed, anyone's) pain, physical or emotional. So, number 1 for you is no "I" (or "me") statements.

Don't blame the victim for their pain.

The opposite of comfort to someone in pain is the statement, "If you had listened to me, you wouldn't be hurting right now." It adds an element of insult to injury, even if it's true. Even if it's true, it is not an empathetic response. Pain requests empathy, not blame.

Before saying a word, imagine your child's pain were your own.

It's hard to see your child in pain, and the number of times it is a direct result of not listening to you are and will be innumerable. It's less comfortable to experience the child's pain than to rationalize it. But live with it. Being a parent (or a person in relationship to anyone else) means living with the hurt of others.

If you do that, a response to the above situation might look more like, "Ouch/Oh my goodness! Here, let me see. [Honey/Sweetie/whatever the affectionate nick-name], do you want some ice on that? (In other words, I feel it with you. How can I help?)

Practice, practice, practice.

This will not be easy for you, nor will it be comfortable. But as a parent it's part of your job to raise children who feel valued. You'll make mistakes; if you catch yourself in one, start over. "I'm sorry, let me start again..." sounds trite, but it's not. It allows for practice even when you flub up. It acknowledges that your first response was the wrong one. It helps.

Pick your teachable moments, and separate them from the event by at least 30 sentences.

Yes, that's a crazy, random number. But it means you'll not have insulted the child for a while, and will keep you in an empathetic mode. When the child has first experienced a significant degree of empathy from you, then they can hear the life lesson. It might even give you time to realize that the life lesson isn't what you think it is.

Read about how to develop empathy.

This is just a start. Reading about the hows and whys will help you understand your response and how it differs from the ideal.

There's a fascinating case of a neuroscientist doing a study an imaging study of sociopaths (people unable to feel empathy) who, while reading MRIs of the groups, realized that his own MRI revealed defects indicating he was a sociopath. He set about speaking to his family and colleagues about his actions, etc. and realized that yes, he was a high-functioning sociopath. Buy he studied empathic responses and became a better husband, father, and human being. He still was not naturally empathetic, but his relationships improved.

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    I especially liked the addendum. I have an adult autistic friend who had to learn to act in social situations and took acting classes to learn to fake it. By faking it and going through the motions, they say they started to feel more and definitely understands better.
    – WRX
    Apr 29, 2017 at 16:11
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    Really love the practical advices. Kids are indeed not adults, and some adults are not even able to behave like adults. It will be a tough journey for me, but I must succeed before he grows up to be like the current me, devoid of empathy. Apr 29, 2017 at 17:42
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    @Bluemonkey - Don't be too hard on yourself; you posted here. That's a great sign. Apr 29, 2017 at 21:41
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    "Children aren't miniature adults" was definitely the hardest lesson to learn as a new parent. And it gets worse as the kids start becoming more mature and you fall back into the same trap of "over-adulting" them.
    – corsiKa
    Apr 30, 2017 at 8:29
  • @Bluemonkey: The nice thing is you have the chance right now to fix this without your kid remembering a thing. If you wait until a few years later he might just internalize remembering you as the unempathetic parent and it'll be very hard for you to make things better after that's settled in, even when he's an adult.
    – user541686
    Apr 30, 2017 at 20:01

It sounds to me like you are a pragmatist. ("I told him and warned him but he went ahead and stood there. I am sorry he's hurt, but he could have avoided it easily enough.")

How do you feel when you are hurt? It doesn't have to be your fault, but say you broke your toe on something in the dark. It was an accident, you were trying not to disturb your spouse.

I am a pragmatist, too. When I broke my toe in January I did not even wake my sick husband. I limped out of the room and thought to myself, "Idiot, you should have been wearing shoes, not slippers!" I hopped around and got some ice and later when I told my husband, his reaction was to tell me it was "Bad timing." (We both have been in and out of hospital since early January.) I think even I would have liked a little more sympathy than that!

I think you start by going through the motions. You may not feel the way you think you might/ could/ should, but it is a start. My first job was answering phones. We were told to smile because the smile changed how we spoke to the client. This the same thing, going through the motions, helps trigger our emotions. We teach ourselves to act and then we gain understanding.

So I'd say think about how you want to be treated. It is fair to remind him he was warned, but is it necessary, and how does it harm us to show a little love and kindness?

Be pragmatic about that, too. "I am so sorry you are hurt. Would you like a hug/bandaid/ice/whatever?" Cuddle up until the initial hurt has passed, put your arm around him and suggest that he sit with you until he feels better. Then ask him what he'd tell his sibling or Mum if he saw them standing where he stood? Let him come up with the answer and praise him for learning that lesson.

Think of it as a loving and compassionate life lesson for you both.

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    Yes I tend to think along the line of "if your father does not feel the pain, why should you". When I was young, I hid my injuries from my parent as well. My reaction (or lack of) towards others' pain, is hurting my wife too. For the family, and also for my other kid (daughter), I need to learn to show more love. Apr 29, 2017 at 17:48
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    @Bluemonkey I think you start by going through the motions. You may not feel the way you think you might/ could/ should, but it is a start. My first job was answering phones. We were told to smile because the smile changed how we spoke to the client. This the same thing, going through the motions, helps trigger to emotions.
    – WRX
    Apr 29, 2017 at 19:34

A phrase I have heard is "treat the patient not the disease." That phrase may be helpful here.

Since I too have trouble with empathy, lets sit down and analyze the situation without any. Should be more comfortable for both of us! =D

Solution one is always to prevent the event from happening. Obviously that didn't work out so hot. Something about a 3 year old having a mind of their own. I point out solution one only because we shouldn't forget it's there. If you find a way to not let your kid hurt themselves, obviously there's some value there!

Moving on to the more interesting solutions, let's look at the situation after the key moment: when the door opened and smacked your kid. That was the unknown that you couldn't really predict, so we have to suck it up to fate. If we could have prevented it, well, see solution one! For the more interesting solutions, we have to start after the door has already happened.

Now you're a rational adult, right? You have goals. What are your goals here? I see two goals possible:

  • Laugh at your kid's misfortune, making you feel better about your superiority and your intellect.
  • Strive to make your kid a better wiser person.

I highly doubt the first one was your goal, but I did want to include it for completeness before I went on to assume the second goal. You want to make your kid better. They just endured a trauma and you want to make sure that they gain enough from the event to "make good" on the pain they endured.

Now we could start with the more specific goals if we wanted. We could, say, have the goal of "make the child more obedient, so they understand that when you say 'get away from the door because you might get hurt,' that you know better and they need to obey." Or we could say the goal is "cement the idea that doors are dangerous creatures that may leap out at you at any moment." Either could make the child a better person (in one way or another), but the real question is not what goal your child would learn in a perfect world, but what your child can do in the real world. As a hint, their nervous system has just lit up letting them know that the world is coming to an end because everything is wrong! This is going to be a rather difficult time to get a point across. They don't want to learn a lesson, they want to make the pain go away.

So this is why I set the goal very wide with "make your kid a better, wiser person" and recommend thinking about the phrase "treat the patient, not the disease." In truth, your child is going to learn something. Their brains are designed to learn lessons. If you want to have some say in what the lesson is, don't go after the disease (or bruise). Seek to treat the patient. Your patient is crying and thinks the world is coming to an end. This also means your patient is full of energy ready to make changes, but they lack the neurological stability to do anything with that energy but cry. Help them become stable enough to not cry, and they can use the rest of that nervous energy to learn things.

Thus, help your child become more stable. Help them get over the crying. Their brain knows what lessons they need to learn -- I would argue their brain knows these lessons better than you do. You need only give your child's brain an opportunity to do what it's literally best at.

Now everything said above requires zero empathy to work with. Even if you're in the most frustrated least empathic mood on the planet, the argument will still make sense. Just remember "treat the patient not the disease." Then look at the other answers. They're all full of ways you can go about treating the patient. Once you've convinced yourself to treat the patient, all of those answers are going to be really really useful.

And over time, you'll find treating the patient rather than the disease will naturally lead to an increase in empathy because you'll find empathy to be the most natural way to do so. Thus, instead of trying to tell your un-sympathetic side to "shove it" and forcing empathy, you can appeal to your un-sympathetic side by pointing out to it what your real goals are and that you went over this already. Then it can help you be empathetic instead of having to stand by idly.

And, if your un-sympathetic side can't be convinced because I told you so, then that makes for an excellent question to ask yourself: if you, yourself, cannot be convinced by words to do something that doesn't come naturally, how can you expect your 3 year old to understand "stay away from the door?" So either you get to use your un-sympathetic side as an ally in becoming empathic, or you get to use it as the focal point for why clear instructions aren't always effective at communicating your meaning. Either way, you win!


Just to add to some great ideas in other answers...

One of the things about your child you can influence most is your relationship with them. There could be a time when they are a teenager or young adult and they have a problem, possibly thinking they are in a way at fault. If they think of you as the parent who will listen and not judge/criticize them they are likely to come to you. And chances are that having such a parent will be a great asset to them.

What is worth noting - there is a good part with not being naturally empathetic too. Getting too upset about your children's problems can make them too worried when little and when older discourage them from going with their problems to a parent if they know the parent will get more upset than they are. So as much as we all should work on becoming better parents I don't think you should consider your feature as purely 'bad', rather like needing adjusting.

What I find helpful not to get annoyed at childish behaviours is focusing on the long distance. Looking only at the imminent future it is more convenient to have an obedient child and it is easy to get annoyed at their simple mistakes. But thinking about your children becoming adults one day - probably being obedient and risk averse are not the first things you want for them. Of course it's part of parent's job to make the children somewhat obedient, but you can consider it your task and at the same time think that your child's disobedience/adventurousness/stubbornness as much as inconvenient now can be great traits for certain jobs or challenges in their future live.

As for the incident you described I would try just giving them a hug for as long as they need it. Might be easier than saying things trying to sound differently than you feel. Gives you time to think that if they always listened to you and never made mistakes that would be worrying :).

  • Wise answer. I hope it gets the attention it deserves. May 2, 2017 at 22:54
  • "..and when older discourage them from going with their problems to a parent if they know the parent will get more upset than they are." How VERY right you are! My relationship with my mum never grew out of this. I would +10 this if I could!
    – learner101
    May 5, 2017 at 8:01

I had a long answer about how to behave if a child hurts itself and starts crying, with first-aid measures etc., but deleted it in the favour of the following which is a long answer targetted at you specifically.

I find it hard to sympathize with people

Not everyone has great, or even any, empathy. You do not necessarily need to feel bad about this, it might just be who you are.

who don't believe me when I articulate the risks to them so that they can avoid it.

Be aware that 3-year-olds may look like small humans, but they are not just little adults. There is a decidedly un-intuitive path they take to adulthood. Until they are in their 20s it would be wildly misled to expect any kind of logical behaviour from them all the time (exceptions nonwithstanding). What they gain in mental capacity until their teens is regularly wiped away by hormones at that point.

And I am not being sarcastic here. There are plenty of children who seem wise beyond their years, but totally break down in times of pain, panic, anger etc. They are most certainly not capable of setting stubbornness aside for some logic spewed at them by an adult. I would never do "talking" with a 3yo if I wanted to prevent them from getting harmed (or if I did, I would not really expect it to work, certainly not getting angry about it).


Most adults are not that logic-based as well, either, and most of the above is true for plenty of adults as well.

How do I be more sympathetic towards my children's pain?

Just stop doing what you're doing! Instead of walking away, shut up and hug them, it's as easy as that. You are an adult, for Bob's sake, and responsible for them. The pain itself was enough punishment already, no need to add to it.

You should not only be sympathetic towards them when they are in pain, but at all times. Children notice these things. It's a trust issue. Believe me, the one thing you do not want is children who do not trust you.

So next time your kid hurts, you put everything that was before aside, and go into "medical doctor mode". You check for wounds etc., apply your first-aid-course knowledge, blow the pain away, place a placebo plaster/fist-aid-bandage, and be the hero for your child.

On the next day, feel free to talk to them and ask them if it is, generally, a good idea to stand before a door. If they can't tell the right answer that 100% means that they are simply too young.

Try to imprint into your mind that children, nay, most if not all people, are not inherently trying to actively irritate you. They, as everybody, just do what they do. It is what it is. It is an illusion that you can somehow "educate" them in any meaningful way. You, as parent, set certain constraints around them, and try to stimulate their mental/emotional etc. growth, but in the end they do it on their own; in the environment they are presented with.

And yes, there are children which will do the same error again and again and again, getting hurt over and over again. As it's usually not fun for them, this makes it abundantly clear that they just can't act otherwise (or they would, to avoid the pain). No need for you to get angry about that or to assume that it's somehow about you. You patiently try to keep them out of harms way and focus on not getting angry too much.

You might also look into Buddhism. Even (or especially) if you put the religious/mystical parts aside, they have some purely logic-based and worldly mind-related techniques with which you can train yourself to be more aware of what is happening right now, and more loving of others. Youtube has plenty of material. That stuff actually works.


This is what I do and works most of the time. Hug him first, try to reduce the shock he received. With that injury he already learnt something. Be calm, humans primarily learn with experience, not with teaching. Remember he will not listen to you while he is in pain.

After the initial shock has passed, tell him that he needs to be more careful and listen to you. Don't blame him as it is not his fault not be an adult. Then later on, reinforce what he had learned, tomorrow if he does the same thing, remind him the pain that he had. This will urge him to consider listening to you.

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    Sadly the issue I'm having is to even be able to tell myself to do that. As advised, I need to just let me body do it, before my brain can slowly get used to it. Tough but necessary. Apr 30, 2017 at 8:10

When my son (3.5) hurts himself I hurry over and help him up or into a more comfortable position and give him a strong hug. I tell him with a calm tone, "It's okay", or if it was bad and he's crying a lot, "It's going to be okay". I might also rub the painful area or just put my hand over it.

Whether I warned him or not, I tell him, "you've got to be careful because a, b, c.." depending on what the danger was. I often also say "it's dangerous". I have reinforced "careful" and "dangerous" for about 2 years, since before he could understand them, and he very often listens (not always).

I think you should think about your actions as if he were an adult. If you told an adult not to do something and they ignored you and it happened, you then saying "I told you so" is akin to kicking a person when they're down.

Help him up first, hug him and calm him down, then explain in a softly stressed tone, without condescension, that it was dangerous because of x, y and z and tell him he needs to be more careful. Make it his responsibility but let him know it makes you nervous and stressed out - because it's dangerous and you care about him.


You will be watching your son like a hawk for the next 2-3 years. They bumble on ahead without a care in the world jumping head first into puddles and bashing their head off anything solid. The reason you don't feel sympathy is because it's pointless, they will hurt themselves and learn from it. But communication with a 3 year old will be lost, they have no experience to relate to, so telling them to do anything will also be pointless. Unless you follow it up with the action they should be taking when you issue the request. Get used to physically moving your kid out of harms way, when he turns 6 or 7 he'll understand what you say more than what you do with him.


I scanned the other answers, and a few of them touch on this, but I am posting because I want to offer you slightly different advice.

I feel it is important to acknowledge your child's experience as valid, whether you think they could have avoided it or not. In this particular situation, you may find it difficult to feel bad for your child for getting hurt after you warned them that this would be the outcome. So don't even try.

You may not be able to improve your empathy for your child--you seem to understand where your level of empathy kicks in and where it doesn't. But, you can practice recognizing situations where your child will need empathy, and focus on helping them find it elsewhere. You might not be able to say "Oh, I am sorry you got hurt" but you could say "Wow, I see that hurt. Let's go see Mommy" (or teacher, or anyone else--doesn't always have to be Mommy). You are still acknowledging your child's pain, and I think it is better for you to help your child receive genuine empathy, rather than offer him a less than sincere feeling that you are struggling to produce.

Think about it this way--no one thought you were a bad parent if you brought your infant to his mother to breast feed him when he was hungry. Being a good parent in that context meant knowing what your child needed, knowing that you could not be the one to provide it for him, and bringing him to the person who could fulfill that need. You might be angry at yourself for not being able to produce milk, and your wife might be angry at you that you aren't even trying (I know that there were a few moments in the just born period with both of my kids where I had that (somewhat insane) feeling about their dad), but neither of these emotions are going to be able to resolve the issue.

Learning to provide empathy in situations in which your gut instinct is to think "I told you so," may be the equivalent of learning to breast-feed for you. Recognizing that your child needs something that you can't provide and then facilitating his ability to receive it may be the definition of being the best parent to your child that you can be.

  • Outside the box. I like it! +1 May 16, 2017 at 21:28

Assess the damage.

Normally taking a accidental hit by a door will give nothing but a bruise, but you never know. I've broken a hand fumbling a football. A friend of mind shattered a heel jumping in a sand pit that we couldn't find a rock in after. Unlucky injuries happen.

Even if it only takes two second of handling the kid to be pretty sure nothing is really wrong that two seconds of attention and acknowledgement will make a difference. A script can also be helpful.

"Oh my. Did that hurt? Where does it hurt? Do you need a kiss or bandage?"

A quick pat-down to be sure all his parts are in the right place and he's not bleeding anywhere also can take a few seconds and looks and feels quite similar to cuddling.

Post op analysis.

At the end of the inspection while you still have his attention, but after he has hopefully stopped crying (as hard) talk about what happened. Ask him questions and share opinions calmly. "what happened? What were you doing? Where were you? Why were you there? What did I say about that? Why do you think I said that?" And my favorite "What will we tell [mom]?" Which is a cue for a complete rehash of the whole incident.

I like to remember that it's always a teachable moment for both of you. "I predicted this" is good but if that prediction didn't lead to a good outcome, there must be something you can do better next time. Tell him what you learned, or what makes you unhappy with the outcome. Telling each other your stories of the event really looks like empathy, and the more you practice the more natural it will feel.

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    "I told you so" is onr of the worst thing you can say to a person... kids, doubly so.
    – Catija
    May 1, 2017 at 2:54
  • I actually quite like this answer. Generally we do a quick check to make sure the child is fine and then laugh it off. Now they are older, they don't mind minor scrapes, and even though my eldest breaks toes occasionally (he does a lot of extreme-ish sports) he laughs them off - so whenever they do react really strongly we know it is serious! It's all about re-framing.
    – Rory Alsop
    May 1, 2017 at 18:24
  • @RoryAlsop - I am very empathetic by nature (part of why I became a doctor.) So when I laughed off an injury my son had, it backfired on me in a very personally embarrassing way. My son was doing rolls down a hill, and hurt his thumb. He thought (in all his seven years of acquired wisdom) he broke it. I assessed and told him everything looked ok, that we'd see how he did with time. Well, he never complained about it except during piano practice. He played nintendo with it, roughhoused with his friends with it, did everything without complaining except for piano practice. (cont.) May 2, 2017 at 14:15
  • After 10 days - yep, 10 days - I finally took him in for xrays, and sure enough it was broken, a non-displaced spiral fracture. Dutifully, we went from the ED to the orthopedist, who gave me a 'look' and said, "HOW LONG AGO DID YOU SAY this happened?" Heh, um... To my knowledge, this is the only injury my son remembers my response to. At least it's the only one he brings up. There's no real moral to this story. Parenting styles are different. Kids tend to parent the way they were parented. I guess I will only say that this approach won't work with every kid. May 2, 2017 at 14:18
  • @anongoodnurse There are morals in the story: 1. Never cure your realtives. It is like conflict of interests anywhere else. 2. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes. Everybody. 3. If your son complained only when playing piano, and playing piano with broken fingers really hurts, I would let him walk around the restaurant without marking it as "the worst thing you can do in the restaurant".
    – Crowley
    May 3, 2017 at 16:26

Here's the thing. Whenever a kid gets hurt there are a few things that must be done. In order.

Assess the damage

You want to be careful not to scare the child in this phase, but before anything else (even comforting) you need to asses. This can be done very fast. All fingers still attached, yep. Anything broken, nope. Move on.

Calm the child

Kids are kids, and haven't developed the means to cope with pain like we adults have. They get scared. They are scared that they will get in trouble, or that they did something wrong. They are scared of the pain. They just get scared. You should take a moment and make sure to calm them down. How you do this is different for every kid and every parent. Some times for every situation. Maybe it's a hug, maybe a "Hey, your ok! Listen! Your O! K!" It just depends. As long as the child is calm now, your did good.

Teach The lesson

"I told you to be careful around doors. This is why. If you don't want to get hurt again, then be more careful around doors." Some times it won't stick. Some times it will. You need to make sure that your response is measured and not angry, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't me firm.

"Don't mess with the chain saw or you'll get a boo boo." Is not going to help anyone. "Do NOT TOUCH THAT CHAIN SAW OR Y O U - W I L L - G E T - H U R T!!!!" even though a bit scary will make a lasting impression. At the same time getting that "loud" over a door or something trivial is just silly. (side note IRL, move the chain saw.)

Keep in mind that in order to teach that their actions had this painful outcome they have to be calm.

Treat the issue

Yep last, normally. You want to get in the association really fast. So when the injury is minor you make your point first and then treat the injury. But remember that all this takes place in a matter of seconds, not hours. If you can't, for example, calm the child, then skip that step. Also remember to use a bit of common sense. If a finger has been removed, then you still need to calm the child, to make treatment better, but your first priority becomes stopping blood loss, and preventing further damage.

Notes on sympathy

You don't need to be sympathetic every time. You need to be you. You need to make sure everything is ok, and that the child knows that action leads to result. That said, sympathy is a great way to calm a child, and overall makes people feel better. It's also great for "treating" an injury.

That said, reacting to every scrape and bruise with this big fountain of attention and activity, will only teach that getting hurt leads to attention. Not really a good lesson. Small injuries like this one are normal and every day, and should be treated as such. There's nothing wrong with a hug and a little sympathy, but at the very same time, an over reaction can cause problems too.

What I do

Access the damage, "Hey, listen! Can you wiggle them like this? Let me see." Calm the child, "It's ok, look like you just smashed them really good. It will be ok. It might hurt now but that will pass." Teach the lesson, "This is why we say it's important to watch your finders around doors. If you don't you get hurt." Treat the issue, "Here, lets put some ice on it. It will make it feel better." Then while were sitting around with ice on hands, Tell a story, "You know I was forever getting my fingers smashed, but I learned. If I just watch where I put my hands I could avoid that."

As to hugs, to each their own, some families and huggy, some rarely touch.

The important part

You don't have to be super emotional and talk all weird and squishy to show sympathy. Heck even "See! Don't be a dumb ass! (that one would be my grandfather)" is a fine response. Though in fairness "don't be a dumb ass" always turned into him making me feel better, by telling me about times where he was being a dumb ass and ended in the same result. There are many way's to show sympathy. The key is to keep interacting, and show that you too faced like problems.

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    "Hey, your ok! Listen! Your O! K!" - I don't think you should say that. Telling people they are ok if they do not feel this way is not very helpful.
    – Ola M
    May 2, 2017 at 19:36
  • On the other hand I do understand parents motivated to stop the screaming... just would do it in a different way (singing a calming song, asking the child to tell exactly what happened etc).
    – Ola M
    May 2, 2017 at 19:43
  • This is going to depend ALOT on the situation and kid. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of "Stop and Think" But other times it takes more. There's no quick "this is the way to make them pay attention and calm down". And I'm not really talking about stopping crying. Just getting them to slow down and "realize" that there OK. A lot of times all it takes is for the adult to be calm for the kid to calm down. All the running over, and grabbing, and inspecting is usually more scary then just "glancing over" and going "You ok?" Then moving slowly to inspect the situation.
    – coteyr
    May 2, 2017 at 21:40

Shorter answer to title question only:

As anongoodnurse noted, you seem to prefer rational thinking over the empathetic one and I copy it. On the other hand I think if you change your rationale little bit you don actually need to switch from pure rationale driven to pure empaty driven.

I think your issue starts from the very first reference point you take in such situation: the cause of the accident. Maybe the more you are blamed the more you hate the cause making the first reference point stronger and the positive feedback loop do its job.

Your following logic seems reasonable: Wrongdoing implies punishment; Not obeying your order implies brused hand. This doesn't deserve any sympathy, does it?

Consider focusing on something else; covering the first and negative emotion with a different, less negative or even positive one. This starting attitude affects whether you would feel sympathy or antipathy with the injured kid. I think if you focus more on solving the injury; whether it is serious, what was actually injured, etc.

This focus covers the negative emotion in your head opening the way for the more sympathetic you (the one who feels the sypathy); it brings your actual and visible attention to your actual kid, not the kids fault, so the more sypathetic you is percieved (the one who displays the sympathy).

Sooner or later you should do this with fewer and fewer rationalisation and it may become something automatic. Maybe you would feel it.

Consider also laugh the injury off, when you carefully examined it. This way you, again, cover and defuse the negative emotion and replace it with something positive - laugh. You also teach the kid not to focus on the pain rather to focus on something joyfull.
This laughing off puts another emotional bond between you and the kid; another way for your more sympathetic you to come in. This bond stronger your overall sympathy to them and it also show, or discover, this sympathy to them.

Try to focus on fun with your kid and belittle their troubles. The rest should come on its own.

I also think that the rational you should still be near the wheel; in case of emergency the emotionless person (no fear, no shame, no mercy) is the best one - they focus on the crucial tasks first. Then the empathetic you should come in and heal the wounds the rational one did. The rational one saves lives; the empathetic one helps them heal.

Slightly longer answer addressing all the exclamation marks that have risen in my mind:

I think there are several issues and you are not the only one to be blamed for them.

  1. You and your wife take opposite actions when something bad happens.
    This is confusing for the kid, they do not know what is right and what is wrong. All they know is that if they do A they will be rewarded only by you but if they do B they will be rewarded by your wife.
    This also teach them that if they do ~A they will annoy you but it will be tolerated by your wife and she will back them up in case of possible punishment. They will learn how to fire countermeasures so the punishment focused on them will be deflected on one of you.
  2. Your kid runs in ransoms frequently.
    They do it because they get the attention they wanted when on ransom. They are comforted (by your wife, mostly).
    There is also another scenario - and you wrote it down in the question already.

    You told them not to stay behind the door and they ignored it. (A wrongdoing that deserves punishment)
    They are hit with the door and injured.
    You tell "I warned you not to stand here." (You deliver a punishment)
    A ransom starts. (Countermeasure fired)
    Your wife breaks in and starts comforting. (Punishment deflected) You are blamed for the injury and the ransom (Deflected punishment backfires to you).

    You can see how you 3 year old kid effectively exploits the inconsistency in your and your wife's behaviour.

Your point, that the lesson shall be taught, is a good one. Everyone shall take consequences of their doing. The earlier they learn it, the better for them and the less painfull lesson it will be. On the other hand, the way how you try to acomplish it is not accepted by your wife - your last and only ally.
I think you focus too much on the cause of the accident and rationally conclude that they deserve the pain. I think if you defocus from the failure/wrongdoing you also may lose the antipathy you are concerned about. You will lose the negative bias and your rational deduction may lead to completely different attitude, certainly the more sympathetic one.

Your wife's point is also good. The cold antipathy is not good, people need empathic response sometimes. But I think too much sympathy is not good either. When the kid is comforted only there is no lesson taught. Also your wife shows them that she cares more about them than you, in other words using examples above, they are taught that the successfully deflected punishment will strike you harder that it would strike them. If she blame you afterwards in front of them, I hope she do not, she teaches them not to respect you at all.

The goals of both of you ("Everyone shall face consequences of their doings" and "Our relationships shall be friendly and empathetic.") are good and they should, and can, be accomplished. Do not trade them off under any circumstances.

Try to calmly discuss all your and your wife concerns just between four eyes, without any witness. If you describe calmly your point of view and listen to hers you will find what she finds wrong, and why she finds it wrong, and you will have a chance to explain what you find wrong in her approach.
This way you can find a way that both of you accepts.

As a side effect you can have more healthy relationship with your wife, there shouldn't be any blames if you do what you both have agreed on, should they?
Another side effect can be in the total change of the battlefield rules; Once you fire a punishment (whatever it is) they will find their countermeasures (ransom) are no more effective. If your wife would back you up they will also learn, that countermeasures no more deflect the hit but rather amplify it.

  • One of the policies here is that an answer should not disagree with the premise; another is that it must answer the question. Your answer violates both; you have not answered the fundamental question, "How can I be more sympathetic towards my children when they are injured?" May 3, 2017 at 12:28
  • @anongoodnurse What premise I disagree with? The one that OP is cold "I told you" comentator? And my answer lies within "laugh it off", which means do neither show them it is their fault neither it is special case.
    – Crowley
    May 3, 2017 at 14:14
  • I'll repeat: where have you answered the fundamental question, "How can I be more sympathetic towards my children when they are injured?" (The question is not, "How should I act when my child gets hurt?") May 3, 2017 at 14:17
  • Moving this to chat will remove my objection to this answer. The objection is valid. If you think it is not, please flag my comments for (other) moderator attention. May 3, 2017 at 15:41
  • You said "both approaches are bad". That was enough for me to think the answer wasn't helpful. No one ever takes criticism if it is delivered with any sort of put down -- real or imagined. I think that if you reword your post to be positive -- you will have made a point that might help. example: 1) If you and your wife take different approaches it might be confusing to your boy. I suggest you find a way to compromise and cooperate with each other, and present a more united approach.
    – WRX
    May 3, 2017 at 16:30

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