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Monday, April 19, 2010

Teaching Empathy

I came across a Time Magazine Article today through CNN's Website.

The article was Titled "How Not To Raise a Bully". It was about modeling and teaching empathy to our children.

There was a significant part of the article directed at children who have been neglected or raised in orphanages or foster care.

I found this to be very interesting and in line with our own daughters. I did disagree with the article on one front. They said that empathy cannot be taught, but it must be caught"..... I believe it can be taught and caught. We can teach it through role play. Our children will catch on, through our own concrete example. They will mimic and follow what they see, especially if teaching and role play go along with what they see in us.

This is how we managed to teach our own daughters empathy.

It became very apparent to me over the course of a couple of weeks that our daughters did not understand empathy. They did not know what to do, or how to react when somebody else was hurt.

In the first situation, the girls were playing outside. Anna came running into the house out of breath. She seemed to be searching me out for a big hug. I thought, cool.... sat down with her in the rocking chair and she was hugging me, but breathing rather hard. Something was not right, but she never said what. After a couple of minutes, I asked her, "Where is Sarah?" She had this glazed look in her eyes and she said rather dryly, "Oh, she is in the driveway crying. She fell and skinned her knee."

I could tell by Anna's reaction that she was scared. So we both held hands and went out to check on Sarah, who was in the driveway crying, because she fell and skinned her knee, just as Anna said. :)
My thought was, why didn't she tell me?" But I didn't ask that. I didn't want to shame her for not saying anything. She was obviously upset, but not in a typical way.
Just heavy breathing.

About a week later, the same thing happened but in reverse. This time it was Anna who was crying, and Sarah who came in with a look on her face. Somehow, this time I knew to ask, "Where's Anna?" So, we repeated the driveway experience. :)

It dawned on me, that the girls, for whatever reason....most likely neglect and fear, that the girls needed help to learn what they missed; what seemed to come more naturally to the boys.

So we did some role play. They had great fun pretending to get hurt and getting REAL bandaids. They loved being asked, "Oh sweetie, are you ok?" They liked pretending to be mommy, but also learning to ask if somebody else was ok. Because of that role play, they learned to take care of each other.

Then came Erika. :)

After she had been home for about a week, I left for the first time to go to the grocery store. The girlies were all home with Daddy. He was working on the front porch and Erika had come in to go to the bathroom. Sarah, for some reason was inside blowing bubbles in the bathroom mirror.
When I was bringing in groceries. I heard a loud thump. I knew it was Erika, falling somewhere.... I went to open the bathroom door, but couldn't get it open. I could look through about 2 inches. It was just enough to see this scenairo: Erika laying on the bathroom floor quietly whimpering. Sarah blowing bubbles in the mirror, as if nothing had happened.

So I inquired,"Um, Sarah, do you see your sister on the floor?" She said, "Yes mommy, but she is just too big for me to move!" LOL I realized, she had not connected showing empathy to everybody, just to Anna, because she was shown how.

So, through the bathroom door, she and I asked Erika, who spoke no English at this point if she was in pain. "Bolitz"? "Nyet". So I asked Sarah to try to slide her back. She did, and we rescued Erika from her predicament. :)

We then ALL had brushup lessons on empathy.

I am happy to report that though it had to be taught manually, it now seems to come naturally.

Role play can be a huge help in teaching our children how to respond in social situations that can make them feel fear.


Annie said...

Perhaps I am very fortunate. Most of my children are very empathetic...Nastya is "average" I suppose, but Sergei is extremely tender-hearted; Ilya specializes in generosity, but Zhenya is THE most empathetic, and truly THOUGHTFUL child I have ever met....and I'm a teacher - so I've gotten to know many children! He never ceases to surprise me by thoughtfulness and generosity that - well, it surpasses my own. I feel I learn from his example, honestly. He is also the child who again and again shows himself to be actively grateful for his blessings. You make me wonder more about his early years.

Christie M said...

That is really Neat Annie. :) Erika is alot like that. She seemed to get empathy right off.
I'm not sure why the other girls didn't. I could only guess, that they were either afraid of being blamed because somebody else got hurt, or they would get in trouble because they TOLD that somebody else got hurt. I can't imagine it was they didn't care, because they are very caring.

For Anna, it was like she would get paralyzed and not know what to do.
For Sarah, she was just aloof, and figured it was out of her control. LOL
Since those days, they do show empathy and care.... but it didn't come easy.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you succeeded teaching them empathy, knowing how to comfort people and being helped are the bricks that make a true relatinship

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