Monday, September 12, 2016

Instilling Empathy

My kids are pretty good kids. They eat what is given to them, go to bed when they are told to, they do better in school than my husband and I did, and they help out around the house when asked.

Sure they have their downfalls:

Mica at times rushes with homework, 1/2 cleans his room when he's told to clean his room, doesn't like going outside to play, and at times isn't empathetic towards Isaak.

Isaak has a hard time being self directed, has a sweet and sour personality - when the sour happens watch out, is dramatic, and is sensitive.

When Mica was itty bitty I worried that he lacked empathy. I only felt this way because he wasn't empathetic towards his brother.

Isaak was more saturated with it. His feelings would get hurt so easily.

I know that instilling empathy is important.

I saw Mica as more the kid that would pick on others, and Isaak as more the kid that would be bullied.

Boy was I wrong! 

Mica helped and continues to help other kids in school. He's a true leader.

Last week a fellow safety patrol member was being picked on. No one would let him back into the school. Regardless of what others thought of him, Mica let the boy back into school. I was so happy that Mica stood up for the kid; when no one else would.

Mica's still not perfect with his little brother, but he's better.

When we went to the school's open house I saw that someone from Isaak's class was sitting all alone at a table. She looks different because she has some medical problems. She has an NG feeding tube. I know that she's been in and out of the hospital. I asked Isaak, "Why is that little girl sitting there all alone?" Isaak said, "I don't know Mom. A lot of people in class say she smells, and looks funny. They won't hang out with her. I talk with her. I invited her to my birthday party, but she couldn't come because she was in the hospital. I made sure her brother got one of my birthday treats to give to her." The treat was the book, The Secret Garden. I had to turn away from Isaak. Travis asked, "What's wrong?" I couldn't talk because tears were starting to flow down my face. I was trying to turn off my emotions.

I wanted so bad to make that little girls problems go away. I wanted to tell Isaak's teacher about how this little girl is treated. I couldn't say anything. The little girl was right there in the classroom the same time we were in there. Instead I complimented her on how pretty her dress was.

I teach college aged kids/adults. At an art school where everyone is a little off there's generally a few that are more off than others. Sometimes the students are accepting, while other times they aren't. I do my best to include all of them in discussion. I have lectures about creative minds - how we are different, and how that's ok. I tell them that the world we be a pretty boring place if we were all the same.

Teaching Empathy:

How does one teach it? How do you instill something that's a feeling?

According to the New York Times:

1. Empathize with your child and model how to feel compassion for others.

At home I a lot of times would talk about how I didn't like how this student or that student was being treated. 

I've discussed with Mica and Isaak that we don't know where other kids come from. Their backgrounds are all different. I showed them a powerful video called ReMoved. It was about a kid in the foster care system. I said, "If it's too much for you, I'll turn it off and we'll talk about it." 

2. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations.

This may sound bad, but I make Mica play with Isaak outside. 

They have to do things at times like pick up garbage at a park with me, and rake up a neighbor's leaves with Travis. 

3. Provide opportunities for children to practice.

It helps that they have a cousin that does in fact have special needs.

4. Expand your child’s circle of concern.

Our boys got accepted and go to Banister Leadership Academy. There are lot of kids there that have single parents, troubles in school, and so on. I'm not saying I want our kids to be around bad kids. I just want them to have a chance to be role models. 

This is a touchy one. If your kids are left to defend themselves against bullies they could get in trouble themselves. In my opinion they also need to know that it is ok to walk away if they feel unsafe. 

5. Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively.

We're still working on this. Kids react differently. I've gotten Isaak to stop writing on his bedroom walls. ;) 

Overall I see a lack of empathy in our society as a whole. 

I hear about teachers wanting to get transferred to a better area of town, so they don't have to deal with all the behavior problems. Once they transfer, they still have behavior problems in the new "better" school. 

Most parents work 40 hours a week. They're tired! There are more single parents out there than there every have been. They're even more tired!

Do you see a lack of empathy in our society overall as a whole? 

What are some ways you can think of to instill empathy? 


Theresa Mahoney said...

Volunteering is big with me and the girls. We started showing them how fortunate they were and how unfortunate others could be when they were little and I think that helped a lot in shaping their kindness today. Allison tends to pick out the special needs kids to befriend each year. Right now one of her best friends is a little bald girl (alopecia sp?) I think she gravitates towards those kinds of people on a subconscious level. Mariah is kind of a jerk at times, but she'll always do the right thing and help others. Not that she's not a nice person, she's just so unaware sometimes. She's very book smart, but she sucks at social skills lol.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

I think the best way is just modeling. If parents model empathy, their kids will get it eventually.

Mandy said...

Aww! It's so awesome that Issak talks to the little girl even his friends/classmates make fun of her.

And yay for you having taught him to care so much about strangers! That's not an easy thing to do.

I think it's interesting that you talk with college-age students about empathy and caring for others. I mean with your own children, that's expected, but with college students that's a bit more difficult. Not only are you trying to fit everything you want to discuss into the curriculum, but you are also working with them on how to treat others and behave. I mean – art offers a great median for the discussion. It just requires forethought and planning to fit into the schedule …

In your time as a college educator, have you ever come across a problem with one or two particular students that you've noticed seem to be picked on more than others? I hear a lot about this happening for younger ages, but I feel like it's not as widely discussed for college students. I guess I just assumed by the time kids were college aged, they wouldn't be as concerned about others as they are about themselves and making the grades.

By the way, images are showing up for me again. No idea what happened. :-/ But yay! :)

Cascia Talbert said...

What a great post. Yes, sometimes I can see a lack of empathy in today's society. I think we need to get our kids involved in volunteer work, like working at a local food pantry so they can learn more about how other people live and their struggles. Maybe then they can learn empathy. I love how you are teaching that to your kids. You are a wonderful mom.

Maryann D. said...

Your boys are terrific and they do have a lot of empathy. I made sure I taught my kids empathy and they seemed to have been born with it. They always had friends who had medical problems and the children's parents always appreciated having my children accept them and treat them kindly.
twinkle at optonline dot net

~ Noelle said...

Broxton's school has "character in me" where they discuss certain words and try to set an example.
Their words:
Moral courage, empathy, integrity, perseverance and fairness.

Veronica Lee said...

You raised your boys well, sweetie. You are a great mom.

Mardra said...

Oh Alissa,
Empathy is the one thing I think could SAVE THE WORLD.
I recently read a study that determined that reading fiction can help teach empathy. I believe that is especially true with children as they *know* when they are being told to do something - and may rebel, as is natural. As opposed to with fiction, if done right, it's a soft sell where they can imagine...
Which, as you know, is also important to empathy. Can you *imagine* how it feels to...
Great post. - Ms


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