Fall Book Club – Chapter 5

Chapter 5 – Empathetic Children Can Keep Their Cool

If you have any experience working with children, you know that there are often disagreements. Children pretty much speak their minds and aren’t shy about holding their feelings back. As parents and mentors to children and youth it can often be difficult to help find a place of common ground for them to agree and move forward. As adults we struggle with this too and could use some better techniques for dealing with those with whom we disagree.

In the second part of Michele Borba’s book “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-about-Me World” she addresses some practical ways to develop empathy in children. These lessons are vital to helping shape them for the many obstacles and difficulties they will face throughout their lifetime.  She begins with a chapter on managing our emotions.  Working at a girls summer camp certainly has no shortage of emotions but it is not impossible to manage as Borba shows from several examples in her text.

We cannot control what goes on in the world around us, but we can control how we respond to it. That is the goal of this chapter – to help train our children respond to whatever life throws at them. In a school in California they practice a process called restorative justice.  When conflict happens they meet together in a circle and come up with solutions together. Three components make this possible – they identify the problem, identify their feelings and seek solutions.  By being able to talk openly and honestly in a safe space, students are able to learn to listen and understand where the other person is coming from. Those not directly involved are able to learn as well as they observe and offer solutions for the students to consider.  In the end, those in disagreement must choose the solution together and put it into practice.  The school has seen remarkable results and those children have a much broader perspective on how to interact with their peers in a way that shows respect and compassion.

Children aren’t born with these skills and we must be diligent to take the time to teach them. Kids these days are much more stressed and this anxiety makes them oblivious to other’s feelings.  Borba believes that it is hard for kids to tune into someone else’s pain and help if they are in distress themselves.  She also reminds us that our actions directly impact how our children respond. Sports activities are a great example of parents losing their cool and not managing their emotions. Borba asks if parents aren’t modeling self-regulation or empathy, how will kids learn it? What kind of grade would your kids give you for managing your behavior?

Borba shares several strategies to help teach your children about self-control. 1.Model calmness yourself – this is not easy but a necessary first for setting the standard for what is good behavior.  2.Tune into your child – learn what things set them off and signals that they may be in distress. 3. Help them identify those body alarms as well. Our physical bodies are very in tune with our emotional state and can help remind us when we need to reorient ourselves. 4.Create a quiet space for them to decompress and calm down. 5.Teaching breathing techniques also help to bring calm and clear our minds to think carefully about a difficult situation.

All of these strategies and techniques take time and effort and we must all have a long term perspective as we seek to train ourselves and our children.  Camp is a great place for these types of activities and already we have things in place to help campers learn from and understand one another better.  I love that our day starts with Morning Watch where we look to the Bible for daily truths.  The girls take those truths and apply them to real life situations and act them out for all of camp to see and be challenged by. They demonstrate godly empathy everyday as they apply God’s word to life and seek to create a culture of love, respect and compassion at camp. Even though these are activities we have put in place, the campers themselves come up with the material. They take ownership of what it means to love one another. It is heartwarming and convicting and another way camp helps develop these skills alongside of you.

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Galatians 5:22-23

Camp Store Christmas Shopping

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Fall Book Club- Chapters 3 and 4

In this edition of our Book Club we will wrap up the first section of the book UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba. We have covered the importance of this topic as we raise our children, as well as the first two practical steps in developing empathy- recognizing feelings and creating a moral identity. In this post we will look at the last two parts of developing empathy in children through helping them understand the needs of others and developing a moral imagination.
Borba begins Chapter 3 by helping us understand that empathy is developed not from worksheets or lectures, but from active, face-to-face experiences. Ultimately we want to help our children understand what it feels like to walk in another person’s shoes – what are their feelings, wants and needs compared to those of my own. Borba focuses on how we discipline children as one of the key tools in helping them empathize and understand their neighbor.
Discipline has always been a difficult and debated topic among parents, educators and anyone seeking to influence the next generation. I disagree with several of Borba’s conclusions about the effect of various discipline techniques, but nonetheless appreciate her approach to the topic. She suggests that we use “impact statements” to help kids internalize the value of caring for one another and form a strong moral identity that will grow with them through life’s difficulties. As a parent, Borba calls us to express our disappointment in our children’s behavior as it affects those around us.
These impact statements can help us to see our actions beyond just ourselves. She lists some practical ways to put this into practice: Call attention to uncaring, Assess how uncaring affects others, Repair the hurt and require reparations, Express disappointment and Stress caring Expectations. My only concern with this line of thinking is that we keep it in balance. We don’t want our children to become so others focused that they become dependent on what other’s think or motivated solely by others feelings. Scripture is clear that we are to love God with our whole heart and second to love our neighbor as ourselves. God is an empathetic God and desires for us to walk in that same light. However, we must not let people be our sole motivation. We need to see how we fall short of God’s design for creation and first move towards Him for forgiveness and guidance and then move towards others as we trust God for that direction. As we do so, God will be glorified as His people engage in biblical relationship building. I believe that this truth, coupled with the practical steps that Borba lays out, is a great foundation for truly learning to love and understand where others are coming from.
Chapter 4 moves into how to help kids develop a moral imagination and this chapter gets me excited! Borba focuses in on teaching this through literature. What better way to spend time with your kids than through reading! There are so many wonderful stories that engage kids’ imagination in general while also helping teach those valuable lessons of empathy and caring we so desperately want them to learn. The best part is the hard part is done – we simply bring those stories to our children and help them think through their meaning.
The argument for reading more often shouldn’t take much convincing these days given the staggering statistics about the time kids spend in front of a screen. The steady decline in our children’s ability to concentrate should push us to look for other ways to engage them. The struggle is how to get them to sit still and pay attention to a book – whether they are reading it or you are reading it together. This is where parents need to make some intentional, sometimes hard choices, about how their children and family use their time. Build in some quiet time – for reading, thinking, drawing – and participate with your children as much as possible. Look at a list of suggested reading for children at various age levels and if they aren’t reading those books at school, make a way for them to read them at home. Most importantly, talk about what you read and help them to see the lessons to be learned from these stories.
Borba gives some helpful cues to get these conversations started once you begin this reading challenge. Step 1 – Pose “What if” questions. What if you were that character? Would you have made a different choice? If that were you, what advice would you give? Asking good questions is the first step to helping kids internalize and embrace what they are hearing. Step 2 – Ask “How would you feel” questions. These questions can help your child reflect even further into understanding the character and how this can affect their life. Step 3 – Switch the Focus from “me” to “you”. Ask questions like “Imagine you are that character. How does she feel about being…” The goal in all of this is to help children imagine how someone else is thinking or feeling. Borba helps us to turn our thoughts from ourselves onto others through these types of questions.
As I considered these insights about teaching empathy, I realized that as a camp we are doing many of these already, but we most certainly have room to grow. Storytelling and reading are wonderful ways to spark imagination, wonder and empathy and we will be looking for ways to add that to our programming. Our devotional time in the evenings is one way we have used stories to help our girls think about their relationship with God and with each other.
Please let us know if you come across good books that would be a great addition to our library of camp resources or activities that we could add to our programming to continue to help build empathy in our girls. There is no question that our country is in desperate need for understanding from one another and we continue to pray that we would be a catalyst in bringing people together.

Fall Book Club- Chapters 1 and 2

We are continuing our series on the book UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and in this post we will look at the first 2 chapters of the book.  Chapter 1 deals with the importance of helping kids recognize feelings and Chapter 2 addresses helping them develop a moral identity.

In the first chapter, author Michele Borba, highlights a school where young children spend time simply observing an infant and learning to pick up on how it feels by watching its facial expressions, sounds and general body language. The teacher explains that the need for learning to relate to each other is as important as learning to read and that’s why they choose to spend time working on those skills with the children.  Borba also points out that tuning in to feelings is key to parenting well. Unfortunately, in our digitally consumed world, face to face time is diminished making it difficult, if not impossible, to recognize and understand each other’s feelings.

Teaching our children and ourselves to be empathetic and compassionate begins in the home with face-to-face contact. This requires intentional parental choices – carving out family time, unplugging from electronic devices, talking with each other and actively listening. Bringing back sit-down dinners is one of the easiest ways to facilitate communication and spend time together as a family.

Real, meaningful, emotion-charged personal experiences work best to help kids understand feelings.  Things like observing babies, raising a puppy, tutoring other children, and spending time with grandparents are practical ways to help children practice observing how others feel and learning to respond.

Kids need a vocabulary to discuss emotions and guidance for using it.  In the context of the family dinner, we can set the example by talking about our day and including how this made us feel.  When we turn our focus toward our children, listening to them, and asking pointed questions about the feelings invoked by the events of their day, our children are encouraged to express their feelings.  They also learn how to ask their own questions in a conversation. These skills are key to developing empathy and compassion.

Borba maintains that we discuss, explain, and encourage girls to share feelings far more than we do boys. Interesting thought. Has that been true in your experience?

In Chapter 2 she moves into discussing how to help develop a moral identity.  Over the last 20 years the focus has been on building up children’s self-esteem. While this is important to some degree – we certainly don’t want to beat our children down to have no confidence or drive – but we have not kept this in balance and our children and culture are suffering as a result. Borba says that in trying to make them feel good, we focus on their cognitive, social, and physical feats. In doing so we overlook their moral accomplishments like compassion, generosity, thoughtfulness and concern for others. As a result, she says, over two-thirds of adolescents ranked their own personal happiness as more important than their goodness.  This flies in the face to Biblical truth which says to love your neighbor as yourself* and to put others needs above your own**, but how do we develop this in our kids in a way that it is their mindset and not just us telling them to “play nice”?

Some practical advice Borba gives are laid out in 5 simple guidelines: pay attention to how your child responds to encouragement and look for signs that you could be overpraising; make sure to align the praise with a character trait – “you’re always so thoughtful – you’re a considerate person”; use nouns, not verbs – it creates a positive identity trait they are more likely to grab on to; focus on character, not behavior; finally – model it! Don’t expect your children to be compassionate, generous people if you are acting contrary to your words.

She also suggests setting some time apart to talk about this as a family and discuss what your core values are and what it would look like to live those out.  We adopted a similar activity for camp the past two summers.  Each cluster meets on the first day and decides what they want to get out of their time at camp.  Then they list behaviors and attitudes that will help them accomplish these goals and those that will prevent them from experiencing these things.  When a conflict does arrive, we go back to those guidelines that they set up and ask them if what they are doing is contributing to or taking away from their camp goals.  It has made a huge difference in how they respond to one another and take ownership of their camp experience.

She lists several other practical ways to help build this mindset in your children and closes with the top five things to remember.  1. Moral identity can inspire empathy, activate compassion and motivate caring behavior. 2. To respond empathetically, kids must value other people’s thoughts and feelings. 3.Overpraising can make kids competitive, tear others down, and diminish empathy. 4. Entitling and “overvaluing” kids may increase narcissism and hamper moral identity. 5. If a child can imagine himself as a caring person, he is more likely to care about others.

I would add to spend time reading and discussing stories of real life and fictional characters who modeled this mindset. Spending time reading and praying through scripture is the foundation of all of this and should be an integral part of your family time together. If we truly want to see change in our children we must seek wisdom from God’s word and allow it to guide our hearts and minds to love God and love our neighbor.

I would love to know your thoughts as to how you have seen this develop in your children and to share ideas with others so we can all grow in our effort to teach our children the importance and value of having empathy.

 

*Mark 12:28-31

**Philippians 2:1-11

Fall Book Club – Introduction

Welcome to the Hollymont blog and book club! Yes – book club. Let’s read and learn together about what our girls need to succeed and grow into who God created them to be.  Feel free to read along and email your comments to me at amy@hollymont.com or just join me on the blog as I recap from our current book.  Hopefully we can all learn something new from each other.

Our first book is called UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World written by Dr. Michelle Borba.  Throughout the book she lays out 9 essential habits that provide what she calls the “Empathy Advantage”.  Those habits are being able to recognize feelings, have a moral identity, understand the needs of others, have a moral imagination, keep their cool, practice kindness, think “us” not “them”, stick their necks out and want to make a difference. The book is divided into 3 sections – how to help children develop empathy, how to help children practice empathy and how to help children live empathetically.

It’s no secret that there is an epidemic of self-absorption in our society.  In her Introduction, Borba lays out the premise for the need for empathy as a foundation to humanity. She says that self-absorption kills empathy. With the deluge of social media and advertisements that push the idea of promoting self, it’s no wonder we have lost our ability to be empathetic. The effect it is having on our kids is staggering. They are becoming more entitled, competitive, self-centered and individualistic according to Borba.  Confidence and drive are good things when coupled with empathy and a mentality that sees beyond the mirror.

While Borba’s premise has a secular base, the whole of the Christian faith is built upon a God who shows the ultimate form of empathy by sending His son to earth to live among us and serve His people with love and compassion.  This love was culminated on the cross where God sacrificed His son so that we could have eternal life with Him.  Living out that same compassion and love should be what we are known for. Unfortunately, that is not always our first response. My hope is that as we look at Borba’s observations and suggestions and Scripture, we can begin to frame how to guide our children (and ourselves) to become more naturally empathetic and loving.

Camp is a great place for teaching and practicing empathy.  We strive to build a community that seeks to listen, understand and respect one another. We encourage each other through our struggles and accomplishments. The bonds built over their weeks together last a lifetime. All of this is done with the truths of Scripture at the center and we can say with great confidence that it works.  We have seen our girls learn to love and respect people from all parts of the world and all walks of life. It is a beautiful picture of God’s love and plan for His people an encouragement to me as I see the difficulties of the world around us.

I pray this book serves as a spring board to help both you and the Hollymont staff as we seek to develop empathy and compassion in ourselves and the children entrusted to us.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-17

Back to School

Back to School.  The three words kids dread hearing. Early mornings, long days and homework all begin to crowd our thoughts as we eek out those last few days of freedom in the sun. The one part of back to school I LOVED was the back to school shopping – and I am sure there are plenty of our campers out there who would agree.  New clothes, shoes, backpacks, etc. My favorite shopping though was for school supplies.  I was like a kid in a candy store when it came to purchasing new pencils, pens, highlighters, paper, binders and all the necessary containers to organize it all in.  I couldn’t get enough. To this day I still get excited when I walk into an office supply store or through the back to school section at Walmart.  Now don’t get me wrong, once the first essay was assigned, those supplies began to lose their luster for a time, but I still loved highlighting notes with different colors and finding new ways to organize all the information I needed to retain.

I recently had a similar experience in a fabric store.  I am looking to cover several chairs and had some time to browse the local fabric store to get some ideas.  Like school supplies, the options seemed endless.  Only in the fabric store my senses were overloaded with colors, patterns, and textures.  I started taking pictures of my favorites and asking for samples of those I thought most likely to work and I ended up with a handful of swatches and over 30 pictures on my phone.  It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time.

I am not really gifted in the crafty/artistic department, but when I walk into stores like that or even for school supplies, I am immediately inspired and have this overwhelming confidence and desire to create something beautiful and unique.

As I thought about my time in the fabric store and how much I enjoyed that hour and a half I realized it goes beyond my desire for stylish furniture or to embark on some amazing DIY project.  What those stores offer is the opportunity to create.  Through their array of fabric, thread, tassels, pencils, notebooks and highlighters they communicate that the possibilities are virtually endless, that with the right tools you could do anything you wanted.  Then it hit me, this is what camp seeks to offer.

When our girls arrive at Hollymont we hope that they immediately sense an overwhelming opportunity to explore who they are and take creative risks in a safe environment.  We want them to step out and get to know new people and places with no fear of failure. This is why we offer so many different skills, trips and activity options.  This is why we purposefully place girls in their clusters with new friends from all over the country and world.  This is why our counselors and staff make a point to get to know them as individuals and point them towards our perfect Creator, God, as they begin their own faith journeys.

Camp provides the tools necessary to learn and grow and discover all that they are capable of doing and being.  We have seen girls take courageous steps of faith throughout the summer through these opportunities and know that God will be faithful to continue to develop that confidence and boldness throughout the year.

Our theme this year was trusting God in new places.  Our prayer is that they would continue to see every place as a new opportunity and they would know the endless possibilities of becoming who they are created to be.  We hope that the tools they were given at camp, would be instrumental in their ability to continue to look at the world with wide eyed wonder and possibility.  They are surrounded by so many colors and textures – we pray they would be inspired and challenged to create and pursue life wherever God calls them.