Put Yourself in His Shoes!

A wise educator once compared a child’s distress over a lost toy to the anguish that an entrepreneur feels regarding a failed investment.

He specified that taking away a block of wood that a child is floating in the bathtub as a pretend boat is akin to a merchant’s ship sinking at sea.

The businessman’s inventory and sea vessel are doubtless worth millions of times more than the splintered piece of wood that your son calls a boat; yet their loss is extremely painful respective to their owners.

Imagine that you received a brand new Lexus as an inheritance this morning, and during lunchtime your neighbor asks if she can borrow your new car for an out-of-town trip.

What would your reaction be?

How would you feel if you were directed to share the shiny Lexus with a voice from above that said, “Please share your new stuff with your neighbor!”

Now, are you happy to share the car, or do you feel resentful to be giving up control of your new vehicle so soon?

Here’s a more realistic slice of life: Imagine that your eight-year-old daughter, Katie, was just the recipient of a new ten-speed bicycle, and your seven-year-old son, Dan, asks her to borrow it for a ride around the block.

The very same emotions that ran through your veins as a result of your neighbor’s request to borrow the new Lexus are now coursing through Katie’s heart.

We’ll address the issue of sharing in a future article; the point here is to empathize and understand your child’s point of view and reactions, by comparing your own personal life experiences.

Did you have any friends that were unlucky tech-stock investors during the dot-com crash of 1999? When the market plummeted, did you say to your friend whose multi-million dollar portfolio was nearly worthless, “Oh, don’t worry about it, the market will climb back up, would you snap out of the dumps already!”

The anguish of a failed adult investor is comparable to a child’s lost pencil-case or stuffed animal.

To your daughter, that teddy bear had the same meaning that stock portfolio had to your friend.

Little things, tiny incidents, and petty issues- they only seem inconsequential to us. For children, the small matters are truly “big stuff”.

With this understanding in mind, we can develop a stronger connection to our children, by empathizing with genuine consideration that their little world isn’t so little after all!

Children are acutely sensitive to their parents’ feelings, and will intuitively know when you are truly sympathetic to their concern. By taking a step back, and comparing the small events in your child’s life with the grand events in your adult life, you can further build a secure and loving relationship together.


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  1. Dear Ellen,
    Thank you for your newsletters; I enjoy reading all of them.
    Regarding this one, I understand we need to respect children’s toys and other belongings, but what happens when the home becomes too full with ‘precious’ objects? Or if the toys are broken and the child is so attached to it that refuses to throw it away?
    I think there should be a balance, and we should also learn and teach the children to give away or sell their stuff.

  2. One solution to the house becoming too full would be to explain to the child that there is no room for new toys or “precious” items right now, but that if they would like to choose something to move out, there would be room for the new item to be moved in.

  3. My mother used to have me clean out my toy box once a year (right before Christmas) and I could only keep one doll, and one of each of my other toys. I gave the rest away to less fortunate. I remember having to choose between the dolls so much, because I was a “Mommy” to them. LOL I did learn to deal with “sharing” knowing that my toys were going to kids who were less fortunate really helped me share.

    I think that it is helpful when we let our children understand how them giving up a precious toy helps a child who may not have any. It makes it less painful.

    I do love this article. And have never thought of lost or taken toys as a lost investment. It’s a very interesting thought though.


  4. could you give a couple of responses to a child’s distress. Comments like – I know how you feel or that must be real difficult are too generic. thanks so much

  5. The book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” has great ideas. The first chapter is entitled “Accepting Children’s Feelings”. One of the skills is “give their feelings a name”. For example ” That was so dissapointing, embarrassing, hurtful”, “Its hard for you to part with this toy”, “Its not easy to share”. I highly recommend the book. It really helps you get into your child’s head.

  6. Dorothy says:

    Thank you for this entry. Relating it to toys is great,but what about relating it to real life issues such as family breakup, death in the family, etc. If parents could put themselves in kids shoes for these major life changes, then maybe we would have less drama in the courts, and more love, harmony, peace and balance in certain systems and institutions that would be supportive of childen, and what they feel and go through. My experience is that as adults we forget that children are intuitive, sensitive and they have intense and powerful emotions just as we do, especially when their world is shaken by some life changing event. Thank you for your inspiration and food for thought.

  7. LadyTex says:

    Excellent, Ellen! Thanks for your thoughtful posts … relationships are built on empathy. It’s so easy to bark with a parental voice … it was good to have this perspective reminder.

  8. I try to remind myself to look through my 2yo son’s eyes every day. I often fail, but it makes a world of difference when I do. I agree with Dorothy that toys are really just an example. One tiny example I have to share: Yesterday I was cracking (raw) eggs for dinner, my son was eating and kept indicating that he wanted them. I was getting so frustrated because he wasn’t going to eat raw eggs! 🙂 Suddenly, it occurred to me that he just wanted to SEE an eggshell. It was so simple but I was completely disregarding his feelings. And many episodes of having ones feelings completely disregarded compound into insecurity.

  9. That is so weird that this subject came up! Last week my son announced at a pool party that his goggles were off limits to anybody so not to even ask for them. At first I was embarrased. Then I thought, I know he has spent time carefully adjusting them to his size. Carries them around in a special case.
    My daughter carries a coloring book where she has been carefully practicing coloring within the lines. At our homeschooling group she was asked by a 3 year old if she could use it. My daughter refused. I even tried to get her to change her mind. But then I stopped myself. This was something that she obviously cared about. After all this time of being careful, I was going to make her share with a 3 year old that was going to scribble all over it. I am proud of them for sticking up for something that was valueable to them. I am glad that I was able to put myself in their shoes and see how important these items were to them. Thanks for reminding us!

  10. This is so true. Because of daily stresses and tiem limits on thigns i haven’t always shown genuine interest in what my kids have had to say as I should and I am seeing our older daughter mimick my responses to our younger daughter. Naturally I correct her but also feel the conviction inside myself that I need to change my example before I can really expect her to improve. As parents I think we all ned to pray for each other in these areas as we are human and need that extra spiritual boost to help us be the parents we really want and need to be.
    Sue Gallant in Lewiston, Maine

  11. I think this is a really thoughtful and eye opening post – and the comments even more so. I would like to put in the thought however – are the time, money and risk put into a multi-million investment truly comparable to a toy which was simply given with little effort on behalf of the child? Certainly if that child had worked and saved and spent serious time and effort in a respectable attainment of the toy then the answer is yes. If the toy was simply given as a present with little striving on behalf of the child then I feel the analogy is taken a trifle too far. Just something to consider. Otherwise great post!

  12. Yes, I believe it is important to respect our children’s feelings and limited life experiences. However, I also believe God using the “little stuff” to prepare us for the “big stuff”. As parents, I believe it is our responsibility to teach our children how and when to manage our emotions with logic with regards to the “little stuff” in order to do the same with the “big stuff”. For me the key in all of this is the balance between logic, emotions and discipline (displine of right verses wrong). As well, it also ties into how we teach our children to make choices.

  13. Stephanie says:

    I think this is a wonderful article. Both of my daughters, ages 3 and 5, have certain toys that they’re not required to share. Each of these things is very precious to them. In order to avoid any meltdowns, when we know friends are coming over to play, we put these “special” things away.

  14. excellent post! I am not sure how using my experiences and how I react to a situation would be a benifit to my children since every child is unique. I also don’t believe we can measure how much distress it would cause a child to give away or share a toy. Loss and disappointment of any sort, is a fact of life. I can’t sheild or protect my children from it. I believe that it is a thought process that they have to learn and develop on thier own. My 26month has a process that he goes threw in order to achieve a result. This may be lining up crayons or stacking up blocks and can go on a every long time. If we NEED to stop him from finishing or take the object away he gets upset. Not because of the toy, but because he didn’t get to complete what he was doing. There for we slowly count down from 5. At the count of three he picks up the pace because he then knows when 1 comes he will no longer be able to play with whatever he is playing with and prepares HIMSELF for the toy or game to be finished. hopefully he is developing his own experiences on how to deal with loss and disappointment in life. Skills that he will need when he is older and the numbers on the stock market start to crash! JUST KIDDING!

  15. I think this article is very appropriate. Lately I have been thinking that when I interact with kids as a teacher and mom I can be more compassionate when I remember what it was like to be a kid.

    Recently there was a boy at school who was upset because someone else got a car poster he wanted. Another teacher asked him, “What were you going to do with that poster anyway?”

  16. I disagree with this idea. I have heard these comparisons done before, however I don’t believe that they are accurate. A child whose piece of wood sank is not nearly as upset as a merchant’s ship sinking at sea. A child himself will show that to you. As soon as you offer him some other exciting toy/nosh, he will throw away his toy ship without any problem. He himself does not attribute such importance to his toys and stuff. And regarding the new bike. That bike will most probably be left outside, unlocked in the rain much more often than the new Lexus will be.

  17. Kyla Hamilton says:

    My daughter has been friends with this young girl (who has a few behaviorial problems) but is a very sweet girl but one day she yelled at my daughter and ever since then she will not even look at her. I told her to be honest with her friend about what she did to her and then they can work it out and be friends again. Well, my daughter talked to her about everything she was feeling and her friend (after I spoke to her parents about her experience) wrote her a letter apologizing for her behavior. My daughter still acts the same way about her friend and this girl will not leave her alone even though I have told her that my daughter just needs some space for a while. What do I do or should I keep my big nose out of it? I don’t want my daughter to be a push over but I also want her to learn how to forgive. HELP!!


  18. Kyla,

    I would advise that you talk to your daughter about forgiveness, but never in the context of her friend. Use yourself as an example. Tell a story of a time when you forgave her, your parents, your husband etc…

    Let her work this situation out on her own. But allow her to use you as a mentor on forgiveness.

    I think you did great by encouraging her to speak to her friend about how she truly felt.

    Sometimes, it is best if they forgive and walk away from a friendship. I’ve done that many times in my life. I have had friends who did things that were hurtful, and you have to draw a line.

    I don’t know what was said or anything. So I am just going off personal experience. You can forgive, but not continue the relationship. It is possible. This girl may end up being more of an aquaintance of your daughters instead of a best friend…you may be glad later.