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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Craig Appel


Empathy-Based Family Life with Hand in Hand Parenting
Craig Appel & Edwin Rutsch

Craig Appel is the Executive Director of Hand in Hand Parenting, a nonprofit organization that uses the Parenting by Connection approach. They say, "Our mission is to provide parents with insights, skills, and support they need to listen to and connect with their children in a way that allows each child to thrive. We do this through easy-to-access support, classes, and literature. We offer vital information to help parents deal with issues from children biting and kids' temper tantrums to learning issues and bullying on playgrounds and in schools."

"I started to see that helping parents and changing the dynamic in the family and how children are raised is a huge leverage point for changing the world. Raising empathic children... has huge butterfly rippling effects in terms of changing the world...

We model the behaviour of listening with empathy, and that is how we help them grow into social and emotionally intelligent children."

Sub Conference: Empathic Family


Empathy-Based Family Life with Hand in Hand Parenting: Craig Appel & Edwin Rutsch 

Loose Transcript

Craig Appel is the Executive Director of Parenting by Connection that uses the Hand in Hand Parenting approach.



We want to hear about you, your program and the role of empathy in the program?


Craig Appel is new director since four months, has 4 children. Previously worked in environmental field. 


I started to see that helping parents and changing the dynamic in the family and how children are raised is a huge leverage point for changing the world. Raising empathic children, who are respected and listen to, and have a new definition and understanding what respect for each other means, has huge butterfly rippling effects in terms of changing the world.


2:30 About hand in hand parenting. Connection is the critical piece in helping children thrive and relieving small and big traumas.


We model the behaviour of listening with empathy, and that is how we have seen to help them grow into social and emotionally intelligent children.


3:30 Work in environmental field is adversarial. The solutions with humans is coming together and being able to hear each other. Employers are looking for people that can collaborate.



5:00 I see in hand and hand parenting you talk a lot about listening and connection and those seem to be real core values?


A lot of science in the last 15 to 20 years emphasizes the importance of connection and emotional intelligence. Attachment theory is pretty well understood.


Hand and hand parenting has 5 tools for creating attachment with your children.


We are teaching and helping parents go through the process of listening in those trying moments with love and affection and that really starts with empathy. To understand what is your child going trough in those moments and how do you put yourself in their shoes. When they are crying they are asking for help.


The tools are

  • 1. Stay listening. A lot of the tantrums come when you set boundaries. No you can't have cupcakes before dinner.

  • 2. Special time. Time when they are in charge.

  • 3. Play Listening. Diffuse conflict with laughter. Laughter releases tension.

  • 4. Listening Partnerships. Allowing parents to talk and listen to each other. A mutual listening. Parents need a listening ear.

13:15: The idea of empathy in Parenting by Connection really starts with the fact that parenting is hard and we all know that every parent is finding it difficult. There is no parent who has it great all the time and we understand that. Our job is not to tell you how to do that but to listen to what you are going through with a supportive ear, so that you can start to figure out, 'No I don't want to do it that way. Maybe there are some other ways that I can do this.?"


18:00 That's one of the roots of empathy that we are showing them by our behaviour that what they are going through is what is happening. We are validating, their experience as the most important thing.



19:00 How to you do reciprocal empathy?

That comes in the parents listening partnerships, were we really focus. But with children, where they are developmentally, depends on the age. 


At a young age, it's not processing feelings with your child. Because that is why you need a grownup to listen to you. Our job is not to put that on the kids but to be there for them. But then we need someone to talk with.


As children move to their teens, you are moving from a manager to a collaborator. And hopefully the behaviour you have been modeling when they were little, they are able to just pick up on how you listen because, that is how you have been listening to them.


 How do you keep your attention without offering advice, just by that connection and warmth with the person you are actually listening to.



22:00 How do you set up a Listening Partnership?

We have 70 certified instructors around the world. This is a global activity. We have in person classes where an instructor builds the feeling of trust. Starting with explaining to people how we want you to listen in this atmosphere, which is not immediately offering advice. But literally listening as people so that we can build the safe space and do not feel judged.


Parents share their own experiences as children and moments when they felt they were bad parents. And nobody is judging them.


In 2013 also starting online groups. Parents starter class. Six week course.


Have specific books on different topics. i.e. How to get kids to eat or sleep.


2014 We have 5,000 people doing this. It is growing as the science and information about the value of social emotional intelligence spreads.



26:00 I've noticed on your website you are not so explicit about empathy, you are very explicit about listening and connection. I think implicitly it is core to what you are doing but it hasn't been as explicit? I was wondering about that.


Most of what we do is built on that science of connection and attachments and how important that is for children. I think you are right. It is implicit and I think it is at the core of what we do. When you are listening to this child, what your are doing is, you are not looking at their actions though our frame, which is. 'Oh my god they are loud,  Oh my god it's scary.  Oh my god they are going to hurt themselves. 'Oh my god people are watching.'  All that is our frame, so what we are really teaching is how do you at least for a short time put yourself in their shoes. So we help you understand what they are going through so that it's easier to listen in those moments.


So that empathy among parents too, those listening partnerships we really emphasize that you are not judging people and  that you are not correcting them. You are just being the vessel for them to express what they need to express. Because you know how that feels and you know you also need that.  I think the empathy is basically implicit in that listening relationship as well.