The magic of starting fresh

empathy parenting

I take a deep breath. I look at my son, who has been incredibly difficult since stepping through the door after school. I'm frustrated that he hasn't put away his things, that he left his shoes in the hallway, and that he didn't listen to a single request I have made. As we sit down to dinner, in my most calm and relaxed voice, I say:

"How was your day, bud."

"Like you care." He snarls back at me.

"I do care, always."

He looks at me, sees that I am calm, that I am not about to pile on about all the things we have butted heads over in the past hour.

He visibly relaxes.

"Actually, it was really tough."

(You don't say, I think to myself)

The trick that turned the tables here? I decided that I was going to wipe the slate clean. Instead of letting each of the previous interactions build towards an inevitable eruption, I just started over.

That doesn't mean letting go of the previous behavior. Once we are back on track, I can gently reengage.

"It sounds like that was a tough day. But even still, I need you to be able to listen when you get home."

"Ok dad - I'm sorry."

When dinner ends, the shoes get put away. The lunchbox gets unpacked from his backpack. All without a reminder from me.

Starting the interaction with a blank canvas was the key. By setting aside past judgments and preconceived notions, I allowed space for my son to reset as well.

When you start fresh, you demonstrate that you're willing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. You show respect for their growth and potential. This gesture alone can do wonders in creating an environment where trust can thrive.

Starting fresh also nurtures empathy. That opening allowed me to discover what I certainly already knew - the attitude I was getting wasn't about me at all. Once I was able to understand his perspective, it was much easier for me to bring my own empathy.

Conflicts and disagreements are natural in any relationship. However, when you can start every interaction with a clean slate, you're better equipped to address these issues. In this case, it allowed me to focus on the current problem at hand (why he was feeling so bad), without letting past grievances cloud the resolution process.

In the realm of parenting, starting fresh sends the message that you support their growth and development. It fosters open communication, trust, and a secure emotional connection. It models forgiveness and teaches an important deescalation tactic.

This same approach can be used in any relationship. At the office, implementing a fresh-start mindset can be a game-changer. Whether it's with colleagues, superiors, or subordinates, the practice of leaving past judgments at the door encourages a more collaborative and innovative environment. It can be crucial to building psychological safety because it shows that past issues won't be held against people.

Lastly, it's vital to remember that starting fresh is not just about how you interact with others. It's also about how you interact with yourself. Self-compassion and self-forgiveness are powerful tools in your personal growth journey. Give yourself permission to learn from your past and move forward without carrying the weight of guilt and self-criticism.

It can be difficult to truly give others a clean slate at each interaction. Our brains are designed to store data and create models and patterns of others, then use that info. In some cases you have to actively fight against that programming.

In other cases, your emotions may still be processing the previous encounters. You may feel frustrated, hurt, or angry. It takes the self-awareness to recognize how you feel, then be able to change your behavior to let go of those feelings and start fresh.

Being able to start every interaction with a fresh slate is a small shift in mindset that can bring about significant changes in your relationships. It is a reminder that every day is a new opportunity for connection, understanding, and personal growth. So, as you go about your day, remember the blank canvas of connection and the potential it holds to transform your relationships.

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