I love this video from Brene Brown. It clarifies the distinction between these 3 topics and I find them particularly relevant in our roles as mums.
Summarizing the video:
1. SYMPATHY is looking at someone who has fallen into a hole and asking 'are you ok?' It shows care and concern, but from a distance.
2. EMPATHY is jumping into the hole and experiencing what the other person is experiencing (same conditions). This is what people call 'walking in another person's shoes'.
3. COMPASSION goes a step further than empathy; there is a desire to help resolve the suffering for the person in the hole by offering emotional or concrete help.
How is this relevant to us as mums?
--> When our children are sad or angry, instead of simply saying 'are you ok?' and emphasizing that you care, go beyond that and try to experience what they are going through. This means trying to imagine what it must feel like from their point of view, what thoughts are going through their heads, and the concerns they have. You can also ask 'what is at stake for them?' to try to identify why they are feeling or reacting in a certain way.
--> Sometimes they are not ready to share what they are going through. This is part of empathy: it doesn't always need words, but a hug or sitting there next to them can mean the world to them.
--> Also recognise that ALL emotions are OK, and there are no good or bad emotions. If they feel sad, angry, guilty, don't feel the need to push them away. Just reflect the feeling back to them e.g. "It seems like you are feeling sad."
--> After spending time understanding their pain points, it is a good time to offer your help in an emotional or concrete way. This doesn't mean telling them what to do, because that is based on YOUR experience (not theirs), but asking 'How can I help?' or 'Is there something I can do?' At times, your help isn't what they need, so you can say 'what do you think you'd like to do next?' so they are in the position of making the choice for themselves.