Balance purpose, relationships, and self-care

Empathy works. It always does.

Empathy in the supermarket

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“Stop running around. Stay here.”

An irritated look. Something like frustration, exasperation, helplessness.

“Don’t touch that! No, we’re not getting candy.”

COSTCOThe mom in front of me in line gets more and more agitated. I see a frown on her face, her lips tighten.  I hear her voice rise and speed up. She clenches to her cart as if to prevent herself from strangling her 5-year old son. I can almost feel her suffering.

I imagine her kid is bored: He never signed up for shopping. If it was up to him he would just have fun and run around with his friends.

“Stop it!!!”

I turn to her, trying to keep a sense of acceptance and understanding of her frustration, her longing for efficiency and cooperation from her son. With a smile I say,  “He is really excited about everything in the store. I guess it is a challenge to keep him in line when he has this much energy?”

She looks at me with surprise. Then at her son. I am not sure if she ever thought of interpreting his behavior as anything other than annoying. “Yes, he is…” Her furrow disappears. Her mouth relaxes. Her grip softens.

I turn to the boy who got curious what we are talking about. “I bet you see many, many things you’d like to take home, with all that candy around?” He seems surprised, maybe grateful. As if he didn’t expect his behavior to elicit an adult’s curiosity, let alone understanding and acceptance. Perhaps it usually triggers frustration or admonishment. “Yeah!!! I love that chocolate, it’s really good!

His mom and I look at each other with a smile. Almost at the same time, we say, “We love that chocolate too!” We chuckle at our timing. He gets back in line. His mom is ready to check out. They seem more relaxed and open towards each other – I supported reconnection.

I leave the store happy and satisfied.

I could have gotten irritated over the mom’s impatience.

I easily get triggered when I don’t think children get the respect and understanding I think they deserve. I have a big “Children SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD NOT BULLIED!” in my head. This time I transformed my habitual trigger into a change of perspective of both the mom’s and the boy’s behavior. He tried to meet a universal, human need for play or autonomy. She wanted support. Because I was not entangled in their relationship, and I was able to self-connect and transform my own trigger, I could create a new perspective.

My simple offering allowed the mom to see her son in a different way.

A small gift of empathy. It served all of us.


So happy to connect with you David. Thanks for editing!

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

6 thoughts on “Empathy in the supermarket

  1. Pingback: How a Personal Coach Nurtures Her Network With Just 10 Emails a Year

  2. Pingback: Empathy shopping | Kinda Bexy

    • Thank you for reading and responding to my blog! I read that you wished you had learned about empathy and Nonviolent Communication, when your children were small. You imagine it would have made everyone’s life easier. Hopefully you are learning about it and improving your connections by listening, reflecting and guessing needs.

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  3. I could have done with you thirty years ago, but that our family got through shopping together somehow (them having me as their mum and me not killing them). 🙂

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  4. So nice what you did with the kiddo. When I have my car in places with kids, I have learned “thank you for not touching the car.’

    Aralyn Hughes Aralyn’s Home Economics

    *512.698.6800www.aralyn.com *

    On Fri, May 6, 2016 at 7:06 AM, Empathy works. It always does. wrote:

    > Elly van Laar posted: ““Stop running around. Stay here.” An irritated > look. Something like frustration, exasperation, helplessness. “Don’t touch > that! No, we’re not getting candy.” The mom in front of me in line gets > more and more agitated. I see a frown on her face, h” >

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