Posts tagged ‘empathy: giving, receiving, and needing’

we feel… less panic


WARNING. The following practice is not common in our culture.

At our house all of the toys, space, books, and blankets are shared. This is not to say that each child must share their toys, space etc. with the others, it means that nothing is theirs, it is all for everybody. No one need own something in order to use it.

(There are three exceptions but I will address that in a minute).

This means that when one girl opens birthday presents, the other two girls are eager to see what they have all received. This means that when a friend visits, there is less panic when the child starts to play with the toys, because they are for everybody. This means there is no need for guarding one’s possessions, worrying about the whereabouts of a stuffed animal, or yearning to play with something they did not receive themselves.

This also means that at no point do we need to enforce sharing. Because all the toys are for all the kids, one can just wait until that particular object is available.  And when it is time to pass a toy, bike, or item of clothing on to another family there isn’t much resistance, for there never was a fierce clinging to begin with.

We wondered how this would fly when we first introduced the idea, but what we noticed immediately was overwhelming relaxation. They could contentedly play with an object at hand without concern for the politics often associated with it.

This idea is not supported in our culture and even we sometimes stumble around with the proper wording. The grammar necessary to say something other than “mine” is a bit cumbersome. Instead we say:

The hat I wear. The doll I got from Grammie. The chair I am using. The bike I ride. The shoes I wear. The toothbrush I use. The game I was playing yesterday etc. etc.

In order to address their interest in having personal space, and control, together we recognized some exceptions:

Their body is theirs. They decide if it is hungry, thirsty, sleepy, if they want it to be touched and how.

Their beds. They decide how the covers will be, wether or not they want company, or wether or not it is a play zone.

Their special box. A small jewelry box that fits small crystals, pendants, keepsakes etc. It is closed and not opened without permission.

For anything else contentious we use empathy. If Xi receives a birthday present and isn’t ready for Bella to immediately take all the little pieces apart, we talk to Bella and explain the situation. Bella, hopefully, stops disassembling the toy not because it belongs to Xi but because she can imagine what that concern might feel like. If Bella is having strong feelings about Xi playing with Ellie the elephant, we help Xi understand that Ellie is a special sleep guardian for Bella and it’s important for her to have Ellie nearby when it’s time for bed. The girl’s concerns and interests are still valued.

Everything made available to everybody. It’s kind of a radical idea, but we really like it.


October 14, 2009 at 6:00 am 5 comments

snowy dialog revisited


Jen read the snowy dialog from a few months ago and wondered…

Okay I’ve been thinking about this one overnight. (Devil’s advocate here, I really love your stuff and I’m excited to be learning about it and using it!) I feel like this exchange took advantage of the older child. Let’s say Xi was a younger child, not so passive, and snatched the bear back from Echo. What then?

So here is the hypothetical dialog if Xi were to grab it out of Echo’s hands. This is what I would strive for in any case.

Echo: (screeching, crying)

Me: Hey Xi you just grabbed that out of Echo’s hands!

Xi: Yeah, ‘cuz Nallie I wasn’t done with Snowy. She was watching me do Webkinz!

Me: (probably holding Echo) You’re really sad Echo. Are you mad too?

Echo:Yeah! I want that girl.

Me: You do want Snowy. You want her really badly. Xi, you must have been really frustrated. You really wanted Snowy too. You wanted her so badly that you pulled her out of Echo’s hands.

Xi: Yeah. Well I was affraid she wouldn’t give her back. And I really want her to stay clean. And Snowy is really special to me.

Me: I know she is. Snowy is really special to you. From Echo’s point of view Snowy was just sitting there and even though Snowy is special to you, all the toys at this house are for everyone to play with.

Echo: I really want her! Xi!

Me: I know you do. I am helping you. Xi, I really don’t like it that you grabbed Snowy from Echo because she learns from you and in this case she is learning that if she wants something then it is o.k., or even a good idea, to take it away from the other kid. I’d prefer that you talk to her, or get help from me, and I will talk to her. I want to help both of you. It is important to me that both of you get what you want.

Xi: And Bella too? You want Bella to get what she wants too?

Me: Yes. I want all of us to get what we want and I am always willing to help. I can help you with my words.

I’m not sure where we would go from there. Negotiations would continue, or Echo might become disinterested before the conversation was complete. I do know that I would NOT grab Snowy. I do know that I would continue to give as much empathy to the grabber as to the “victim”. I do know that it might take a lot of time.

Xi is older and therefore can handle more talk, she has more patience. Here is how the dialog might go if Echo and Xi were the same age(2), like in a playgroup scenario.

Snowy  is sitting near Xi. Echo picks her up. Xi grabs Snowy “back”.

Echo: screeching, crying


Me: Oh Xi, Echo was trying to check out Snowy and have a turn. Echo you’re really upset that Xi took Snowy from you!

Echo: Yeah! I want her!

Xi: No! (maybe crying too)

Me: You really want her too, Xi. You don’t want Echo to play with Snowy. Are you willing to let her check her out for a little bit and I could be sure that you get Snowy back as soon as she’s done?

Xi: No.

Echo: Yes!

Me: Looks like Xi doesn’t want to share right now. You seem sad about that.

Echo: yes

Me: Echo is really sad about not getting to hold Snowy. She really wants to have a turn.

Xi: No

probably holding both girls at this point

Then we would probably offer both girls alternative toys to play with. They might want them, they might not. Echo might not get another turn with Snowy until Xi completely lost interest. Or maybe Xi would surprise us and hand Snowy over. This is hypothetical so it’s impossible to know for sure but we have seen all of these outcomes. In any case there would be no grabbing by the parents. No barking out “SHARE, Xi!”. Empathy for both girls. Lot’s of love and affection for both and maybe no obvious resolution (in the way that a parent might “set things right” or make it fair), but the girls do move on and they feel connected, loved, and understood.

October 11, 2009 at 6:20 am Leave a comment

eggs, pancakes, and bridges

natural bridge, santa cruz

The conversation at breakfast this morning focused on feelings and giving value and attention to our children’s feelings. But the question arose: how do you bridge the gap between the kid’s feelings and concern for others feelings?

I like to think that modeling is enough. If we focus on our kids feelings, honoring them, responding to them, and express our own feelings as well, then children will automatically care about another person’s feelings. But my opinion was challenged this morning. Are we teaching children that only their feelings matter?

What do you think?

Does a kid have to go to school and get beat up to understand that hitting hurts?

Do they have to have an insult hurled at them to recognize that words hurt?

What is the bridge?

September 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm 1 comment

i feel… tired


Even with every intention of keeping things simple, all that loving we’ve been receiving has worn us out.

2 grammas

2 great grammas

2 granpas

2 uncles

2 aunts

2 neighborhood girlfriends for xi

and more…

We’re not complaining, well actually I guess we are. Not about the showering of love, we want that, but about things kids complain about when choosing love showers over sleep. Like snacks not being quite right,  sisters using the exact toy they were just about to use, finding missing shoes.

I can’t point fingers either. Today I pulled myself together enough to use the preferred phrasing: “I am feeling really frustrated.”

But then I added with great force: “BY YOU TWO!”

Oh well. I’ll try again. And again. And again.

September 29, 2009 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment

feelings and needs

Sweet little Echo today used the Feeleez in a whole new way! She looked at one of the sad Feeleez and said that she needed a hug, then pointed to the hugging Feeleez and put the two together.

To take the learning further than simply identifying feelings with your child, you can ask them what is the need. Needs are universal: safety, nutrition, play, movement, connection, meaning, contribution….


January 22, 2009 at 5:04 am Leave a comment

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