Where’s The Empathy?

As we continue to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of empathy is so apparent in this country.  People not wanting to do the simplest things to protect others from the virus.  Anti-maskers are shouting about their rights and, ironically, they are using the pro-choice slogan, “My body, my right.”  This totally disregards the lives of others.  If one is truly pro-life, one cares about the life way after birth!  Otherwise, it’s just pro-birth!

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes to understand as much as possible in order to try to understand what the other person is feeling or going through.  One can feel the same feelings as the other person or at least get an idea of what the other person is going through.

Empathy is a learned behavior.  While some children are born with more empathy than others, infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are naturally egocentric due to their developmental stage.  This is a survival mechanism and not a “bad thing.”  Adults can help the development of empathy by modeling it to their children and pointing out feelings of others—whether positive or negative.

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Source unknown. I got it off Facebook.

Not spanking/hitting or using other harsh punishment with children also promotes the development of empathy in children.  Not using aggression to get what one wants teaches children to respect other people and have empathy.  Corporal punishment and using other harsh punishment only breeds fear and anger.  These make children turn inward in a negative manner instead of being open to other people and what they are going through.

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I talked a bit about helping children understand about COVID-19 in my previous post, but here’s a great book written by a teacher that helps further explain this highly contagious, dangerous, damaging, and deadly virus in a developmentally appropriate way.  If you are one who is not taking this seriously, please read this story!

While places are now opened and the topic of going back to school rages on, and schools are opening only to have cases of COVID-19 the first week of school, the numbers of positive cases continues to rise.  I am truly saddened by the fact that this health crisis has become political and empathy for people who are high risk, children, teachers, healthcare workers seems to be going by the wayside.  Except for the rare medical appointment and the fact that my chosen family owns a private tattoo shop and keeps people out while I am there, my quarantine hasn’t ended.  I try to wear a mask but it falls down because of spasms due to my severe cerebral palsy.  Anti-maskers laugh that I am not able to be in public because too many people are worried about their own comfort and rights to have empathy for those who can’t wear a mask and/or are high risk.  What a horrible example they are setting for our children.

As an early childhood professional,  I don’t recommend children going back to school until this virus is under control.    I know it’s hard for poor families and I worry about social-emotional development of the children, but we have to realize that even if children are less likely to get seriously ill,  some are going to get seriously ill or get the inflammatory disease that kills them.   Not to mention bringing it home to the family and then we don’t know who will get mild symptoms and who will be hospitalized and on a ventilator.

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I am so grateful  for everyone who is wearing masks and protecting people like me who can’t wear masks easily and then the health care workers busting their butts to fight this pandemic.

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Children who are old enough to wear a mask in public should!  While some children will have an easier time adjusting to wearing a mask, it is possible to help them with it.

Here are some things that we can do to help children adjust to wearing a mask:

Always wear a mask yourself when out in public.  Actions speak louder than words!

Educate them about how masks help protect others and them.  If they like superheroes, compare them to being a superhero for wearing masks because superheroes always protect others from dangerous situations.  There are some wonderful children’s books to read to them to further encourage them to wear a mask in public.   I recommend this book.

Start with short periods of time wearing a mask and do a fun activity to help distract them from the mask.

Let the child pick out a few masks and/or let him/her decorate one so he/she wants to wear it.

Try different masks for the most comfortable one for the child.

Validate feelings about wearing a mask and tell the child that it is uncomfortable sometimes but it is the only way to go anywhere.

Keep little hands busy so they don’t constantly touch the mask.

Always have extra masks on hand or in the children’s backpacks because they are going to drop, throw, spill, forget masks so they need extras on them whenever they are in public.  Also, keep hand sanitizer with you and/or them for washing their hands.

Make up a silly song to sing such as, “This is the way we wear our masks” to the tune of Farmer Brown.

Turn mask wearing into a game to see who can keep theirs on the longest.

Use mirrors in the car to have everyone put them on at the same time.

If for any reason the child has a meltdown and refuses to wear the mask when you get to have a destination and you have to go in, take some deep breaths, make sure that the child doesn’t have an unmet need, the mask isn’t pinching or hurting him/her,  and carry the child in if it isn’t possible to have someone bring stuff out to you.  

Never make wearing a mask into a power struggle.  This will make the child want to wear it even less.  If the child is showing you that he/she is not ready for a mask, make sure that he/she knows that going out is not an option without a mask.

This is a very uncertain time for everyone.  We are all extremely stressed and anxious and children are no exception.  Regression during times of extreme upheaval and stress is normal for children, so try to hold space for it and your own feelings.

The only way we will get through this pandemic is to have empathy for each other and do what we need to do to stop the spread of the virus.  We can do this TOGETHER!!!!

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Love Should Always Triumph Over Manipulation

 

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I recently heard something similar to this quote, “Love should always triumph over manipulation,” on a television show and it spoke to me. Unfortunately, manipulation triumphs more than love does in the parent-child relationship.

It’s not always a conscious thing, though, sometimes it is. We unknowingly usually start manipulating children at birth by not respecting their bodies and feelings.  We force them to do things that their bodies are not yet ready to do such as “tummy time” or propping them up.  This is so uncomfortable.

We make them stand before they can. We try to quiet their cries by shushing them, distracting them with a toy in front of their faces, and/or leave them to cry-it-out.

As they grow, we try to force our own agendas onto them even more.  When they are acting their ages or doing something that is developmentally appropriate, we punish them.  We spank/hit, give time-outs, and arbitrarily take things away.

This is all manipulation. Young children are often accused of trying to manipulate their parents but they are not able to think that far ahead. They’re always in the present.  People who tell parents that children manipulate are usually extremely manipulative.

This can continue into adulthood.  But love should triumph over manipulation. Love should think of the other person and do what is best for them. This does not mean letting people of any age walk all over us!  It should mean putting others first as God wants us to do.

True love accepts all, puts others first, tries not to hurt people, tries to have empathy, and gently corrects when appropriate.

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I don’t know who’s quote this is but it is spot on!

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me, Huh?

We’ve all heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  We probably have said it as children, but is it true?  For me, it is not true at all.

In fact, this is not true for many people.  Words have power.  The Bible even acknowledges that words have power and we need to choose our words carefully.  Let’s look at some of these verses:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV).

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV).

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:18, ESV).

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1, ESV).

Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Proverbs 11:12, ESV).

As we can see, words have the power to build people up or tear them down.  And sometimes words hurt more than being hit, though that is never an excuse to spank/hit a child.  

I was verbally abused by my dad and my high school personal assistant. Even though I was able to rise above it with the help of the Lord and my husband, I still struggle with not feeling good enough or not believing in myself.  I beat myself up a lot in my head.  I take things very personally.  I hate making mistakes because I best myself so much.

In this technological-advanced age, there is a horrible trend of shaming children online.  So not only are parents saying that their children are “bad,” “brats,” “disrespectful,” and “crybabies” to their faces, they’re posting it for the whole world to see.  I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and embarrassment these children feel or will feel when they see the world looking at their mistakes and applauding their parents for “putting them in their place.”

It’s hard enough being shamed and put down privately. The messages that we put into children’s heads become their inner voices.  They start to believe that they are “bad,” “sinful,” and “ungrateful.”  Putting children down only tears them down.  And it begins in infancy.  Infants hear our tone and read our body language to understand us. And most infants begin to understand words before they ever start talking.

Therefore, telling an infant to “shut up,” calling him/her a “brat,” and saying things like “you’re gross” will make them internalize these messages.  And of course, treating infants like we don’t want to be with them also sends the message that they are “burdens.”

Sometimes shaming is used to threaten the child before physical punishment is administered.  Some parents who may not use physical punishment with their children, but believe that children deserve some type of punishment, use shaming to control their children’s behavior.  Many Christians tend to tell children that they have “sinned” against God.  This does nothing but lead to worldly sorrow.

Shaming and punishment leads to worldly sorrow as the child focuses on stopping his/her own pain. The child may appear to have self control after receiving regular punishment and shaming, but it’s actually self-preservation to avoid pain. Discipline, however, teaches godly sorrow and true self-control because discipline teaches empathy for others. There may be pain as a byproduct of discipline due to the discovery of hurting another and God, but pain is NEVER inflicted on the child by an adult. This allows for true self-control as the child learns from natural consequences and gains empathy. Godly sorrow makes the child truly want to repent and make things right. And it’s important to remember that self-control develops very, very slowly in children.

Now, I am not saying that we shouldn’t correct our children.  We should do so in a way that doesn’t shame them. Pointing out how their behavior affected another person and empathizing with him/her will allow the child to calm down and eventually see that he/she hurt his/her friend which will lead the child to true sorrow.

For example, if 4-year-old Billy hits Sarah, we make sure Sarah is ok and then talk to Billy about his behavior and why he hit.

Adult: “Billy, you hit Sarah.  I know you were angry but it’s never okay to hit people.”

Billy:  “But she wouldn’t let me have a turn with the ball.”

Adult:  “Yes, I can see why you got angry. But you cannot hit.”

Billy:  “But I really wanted to play with the ball.  She wouldn’t let me.”

Adult:  “It’s hard to control our impulses when we’re angry.  Did you try to use your words?”

Billy:  “I asked her over and over for a turn and she said ‘no’ all the time.”

Adult:  “Ok, but when she kept telling you no, you hit her.  What happened when you hit her?

Billy:  “She started crying.”

Adult: “Yes, she cried because hitting hurts.  And now nobody is playing with the ball because you’re both upset.  What can we do to fix this?”

Billy: “I shouldn’t have hit her. I will go say sorry.”

Billy goes to Sarah and apologizes all on his own. They talk and begin playing together.

There was no need for shaming or punishment. Billy just needed help getting his brain to calm down enough to realize that he hurt his friend. The adult remained calm and empathetic to Billy.  The natural consequence for Billy’s behavior was that Sarah was hurt and cried when he hit her.   Of course, some children will take longer to calm down and realize they hurt someone. This is all based on the development of the child and how that child is treated.

The more we tear down children, the harder it is for them to learn empathy. If you’re always in self-preservation mode, you can’t see past your own pain.  And sometimes people that have been so torn down may actually take the opposite approach by becoming bullies. Children and adults who feel badly about themselves can sometimes gain “power” by hurting others.  Not all people beat themselves up.  Rather, they take their pain out on others.

We can discipline children without shaming them and putting them down. Let’s build them up so that they can build others up.  Sticks and stones may break my bones but words DO HURT ME.

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Why Children’s Feelings Matter

This society seems to value children’s feelings less and less.  From parents telling their children that they ate all of their Halloween candy (as a supposed “joke”) and videotaping them crying in order to send it to Jimmy Kimmel to show on his show so everyone can laugh at it; to the dad who shot his daughter’s laptop because she posted a letter on Facebook about how she felt disrespected by her parents.  The majority are cheering for this dad.

What about the children’s feelings?  Why do so many laugh at an upset child?  It is very disturbing to me that children’s value seems to be less and less.  This is not a good thing!  It means our society is becoming less and less empathetic.  That is downright scary.

Christians aren’t any better either.  Many punish their children for showing any type of negative emotion.  Children are not being taught how to express and cope with their negative emotions in a healthy, positive way.

I understand that we adults get so caught up in our lives and issues that we forget that losing candy, not being able to go outside, or being disappointed about a friend being mean is a big deal to them.  They are new to our world.  They don’t understand adult issues nor should they.  I love how my friend, Rachel, got busy trying to get laundry done and briefly forgot to take her daughter’s feelings into consideration, but then, recognized her mistake and made things right with her daughter.

“I had a parenting fail today because I was tired and frustrated. I was running Sadie a bath and trying to get laundry done for tomorrow so I told her I needed her uniform to wash with the others. She replied “I have to be naked?!” And flipped out. Crying and hysterical. I was trying to talk over her instead of calming her first by saying just her uniform, she can wear her panties, and she was laying in bed anyway playing on her Kindle so she wouldn’t be cold, she has blankets. I was in a rush to get clothes in the washer so I had timeto dry them by bedtime. Obviously that did no good. I finally took the five minutes to sit and listen to her truly, why she didn’t want to be naked, and then what I was saying about having panties on and covering up with a blanket was perfectly fine to her. We are all busy, we all have our own things to get done, but when we don’t slow down and listen, sometimes we are only hindering ourselves. Kids have reasons why they want things a certain way, and we can’t expect them to listen to us if we don’t listen to them, no matter how unreasonable it seems” ~Rachel.

I agree with Rachel. Simply taking the time to listen and validate our children’s feelings is crucial. And, in the end, it makes life go easier. Instead of fighting against them, we can work with them and do our best to understand and validate their negative feelings.

Just because children are young and immature, does not make their emotions and feelings less important than ours.  How would you do if your spouse or friend put you down or dismissed you because they thought what you were upset about was “stupid” or “ridiculous?”  What if they “jokingly” upset you and showed it to the world to laugh at?

We are supposed to live by the Golden Rule. If you wouldn’t like it done to you, don’t do it to your children.

We need to take our children’s emotions seriously from birth.  Always responding sensitively and respectfully to crying infants is to validate their feelings. Instead of shushing the infant and saying, “You’re ok,” I say, “Oh, you’re hungry! I’m getting ready to feed you.” I Always validate even the youngest infants feelings even if I can’t figure out the need. For example, tell the infant, “you’re so upset. I hear you. I’m trying to figure out what you need.”

Teaching children to be “tough” is not a good thing. Crying is not a weakness!  I know many men as well as some women who have a very difficult time expressing and coping with their negative emotions because they were taught to be “tough.”  And sometimes, being “tough” for some is not showing compassion for others, which is not Christ-like at all.  People who are hurting need and deserve compassion and validation.  This includes children!

Finally, if we force children to deny, repress, and bottle up their negative emotions, they will eventually come out somehow. Or they’ll turn to harmful ways of dealing with the pain inside them. For some, this may lead to suicide.

Yes, children’s emotions matter.  Everyone should be sensitive to each other’s pain.  The only way to do that is to model love and compassion towards our children and everyone else that is hurting!  Also, model Jesus.

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Can Our Children Come With Confidence?

Hebrews 4:14-16, NASB:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

I love this passage!  God wants us to come to Him with confidence.  That means no matter what we’ve done or how we are feeling, we can approach God in humbleness and reverence knowing He will always accept, love, and forgive us. He also sympathizes with whatever we are going through.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1, NASB).

Can you say the same about your children?  Do your children have enough confidence in you to come to you for anything and everything?  What about you?  Are you totally confident in going to God for anything and everything?

Sadly, the answer to these questions for many is “no.”  Our world tends to use threats and fear to control children. Infants are left to cry-it-out instead of being sensitively responded to when they cry. Children are spanked/hit and otherwise punished instead of being guided through problems. Churches teach that God is mean and angry instead of loving and merciful.

Treating children harshly makes them lose confidence in us and, ultimately, God.  How can anyone approach someone in total confidence if they might hurt or reject us?  I know I can’t.

I know a great deal of people who are so used to being rejected, hurt, and treated harshly/abusively that they struggle to trust God. They’ve been spanked/hit in His name and fear that He will hurt them whenever they mess up. Some Christians find the thought of someday seeing Jesus face to face and His unconditional love for them more terrifying than the thought of going to Hell due to how they were treated as children. That is beyond sad!

We need to do our best to be Christlike with our children. That means responding to our babies’ cries every time they need us. It also means being willing to help children when they openly tell us they’ve made a mistake. This does not mean being permissive as many may think.  This means stepping up and saying, “Thank you for telling me. What can you do to make this right?  How can I help you?”

Connection, as L. R. Knost says, is key to guiding children of every age through problems. Connection leads to trust.  And trust leads to confidence in us, and ultimately, God.  God wants our total trust and confidence in Him.

Also, let’s not forget the second part of the introductory Scripture. God sympathizes with us!  Jesus was 100% human and 100% God.  He suffered from humanness. He was thoroughly tempted by satan and did not sin. And yet, when we sin, He doesn’t sit up there and wag His finger at us and say, “You disobeyed me so I must spank you.”  No, instead He gets on our level and says, “You messed up. I forgive you. How can I help you make this right?”  Yes, we suffer the natural consequences of our actions, but God will help us through it. He gives us mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness.

If you read this post, you know my husband and I are grieving the loss of his mom. Again, I’m so grateful God can sympathize with our pain. I’m so grateful God doesn’t punish us when we mess up usually because we are hurting inside and that hurt can come out as us lashing out.

God wants us to come to Him with total confidence. And since we are responsible for leading our children to Him, we need to do our best to help them be able to come to us with total confidence. If they can’t, they’ll find someone else to place their confidence in and that person may not have their best interests at heart.

So, can your children come with confidence?

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Are Children Truly Selfish?

Many people, especially Christians, think that young children’s incapability to always share or to not be able to put themselves in other’s shoes or to need what they need is selfishness. They think this is children’s “flesh” and “sinful nature” taking over. It is not sin or selfishness at all.

It’s a developmental stage that young children go through. Only much older children and adults are truly able to be selfish. We have impulse control. We should have empathy. Children don’t. They’re learning.

Infants and toddlers are very aware of their parents’ emotions from birth and are affected by them, but this does not mean that infants and toddlers can empathize with the parents.
Young children from birth until somewhere around the age of four or five years are what Jean Piaget calls egocentric. Again, this is not due to their “sinful nature” and it does not mean that young children are evil. God designed children exactly how they are. There’s a reason He made young children egocentric, probably for survival in this harsh, sinful world.

As we teach children empathy by modeling it to them as well as pointing out how their behaviors–both positive and negative–affect others, children begin to learn how to be empathetic.  We need to teach them how to be gentle and respectful to others by being gentle and respectful to them.

Punishing them will always hinder their learning of selflessness.

Unfortunately, parents who use fear and punishment to make their children obey them are actually teaching their children to be selfish as the child is not thinking about doing something for another person but rather protecting him/herself from punishment. We should not be teaching our children to only do things to avoid punishment, as the Bible says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

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I’ve dealt with many pro-spankers, and the way some of them dismiss the painful experiences a great deal of people have had with being hit by their parents is selfish.  The way pro-spankers automatically assume that their children will “survive” just because they feel they did is selfish.

In essence, spanking/hitting makes many selfish because it leads to worldly sorrow and a sense of self preservation instead of godly sorrow.

So, what is godly sorrow and worldly sorrow?

In 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, it states:

“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

What the Apostle Paul is saying here is that godly sorrow makes us think beyond ourselves to how our actions have hurt or affected other people and our relationship with God. We look past whatever consequences our actions caused us and want to do everything in our power to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person we have hurt. This is why Paul says that godly sorrow brings life as we seek to be forgiven.

On the other hand, worldly sorrow brings death according to what Paul says in this verse. Due to fear of punishment as well as guilt, people of all ages will focus on the consequences that are happening to them because of their actions rather than how they’ve hurt God and the other person. This is worldly sorrow. Being afraid of punishment and rejection causes worldly sorrow. Also, feeling so guilty and bad about oneself that one feels that he/she deserves whatever punishment he/she has coming to him/her leads to worldly sorrow.

We need to do our best to use discipline instead of punishment so that our children don’t become selfish people who believe that it is perfectly acceptable to inflict pain on others.

No, young children are not selfish, but we sure can be!

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