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