Posts tagged ‘empathy: giving’

mad or sad, does it really matter which one it is?

If you ask our six year old what Feeleez is for she says: To help kids feel better. And then our two year old interrupts her and says: No it’s not! It’s for mamas! For mamas to point to what they feel and then they feel better. And they are right, both of them.

A child can pick up a Feeleez card that they relate to, or point to a character on the poster and feel understood, which makes everybody feel better. Parents need any tool they can get to help them find out what the heck a kid is feeling. Because, let’s be honest, sometimes we have no idea in the world. The flailing, kicking, sobbing explanation that we so often receive from them does not bring the clarity that so many of us crave.

I then asked our six year old:  Why is it important that parents know what kids are feeling? And she said: Because sometimes the parents might be mad at the kid for what they are acting like or feeling, but really the kid is just sad or mad and the parents don’t know it. I feel a little sad about this answer because I think she’s right. We are short tempered because of our misunderstanding.

We need to know what they are feeling in order to have empathy for them. It is helpful to know that they feel scared about starting dance class and that is why they are refusing to put on their shoes(or coat, or seat belt). It’s easy to comfort a scared child with empathy. It looks like this:

Ohhh, you’re scared about dance class. You’ve never been there before and don’t know what it will be like. Are you thinking that if you don’t put on your shoes we won’t go to dance class and then you won’t feel scared? Can I hold you while we talk about our plan and what dance class might be like?

It’s impossible to force shoes on her.

We need to know what kids are feeling in order to help them with empathy. And they need to see empathy in action every day, in every possible scenario, in order to learn how to give empathy.

And why do we want our children to have empathy?

The ability to understand another person’s feelings is crucial to almost every human interaction. Often as parents we try to teach this through rules like: Say Thank You and No Hitting. We are trying to instill a sense of concern for another person’s feelings. But a child that has been nurtured with empathy will come to this understanding naturally. They will notice how good it feels to be thanked and, because they are aware of feelings and how they themselves affect the feelings of others, will begin to thank people without any prompting. A child that has had their feelings honored with empathy, no matter what, will learn about hitting and the painful consequences to others. They will be capable of empathy for others that are hurting, because they have experienced empathy themselves.

In other words, teach empathy and everything else will fall into place.

It really is deceptively simple: discover what your child is feeling, love them and support them through this feeling with empathy, child learns empathy through modeling, the child uses empathy as they move through the world and becomes the kind of human being that is a joy to be around.


January 9, 2010 at 11:27 am 3 comments


Little by little I have been packing up box after box of stuffed animals, toys, and games, and guess what? The girls still play, play, play, all day long. Seems they do not actually need all of these things that fill our house. Today I began to wonder, what do they need?

Today I noticed they needed me, among other things, to:

mediate/translate during squabbles

make food

help wipe a bottom



tie a knot

and find a lost baby doll

As I look at the list, I notice there are some items that are fundamental needs, like food, and others are wants. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the two and you can find yourself butting your head against a wall. Like I did last night for instance. Echo spent most, seemingly all, of the night nursing. By 4am I was ready to roll over and bend my knees – in essence, move out of the nursing position for at least a little while. Well, this was, to put it mildly, upsetting to Echo. She cried and screamed and tried to force her way back to my breast. It was awful. I explained and explained and explained to no avail. Finally I figured that half-sleeping while nursing was better than the no sleep Nathan and I were then getting, so I relented. But my nipples were so sore, and her hand kept twirling my hair until my face and neck were raw, and, worst of all, she did not sleep. Torture.

She seemed to need to nurse, and that was not working for me. So I lay there trying to logically figure it out. Maybe her need was really a want, and if so then there might be a deeper underlying need, and (hope beyond hope) I could meet that need in some way other than nursing.

I thought to myself: she wants to nurse, maybe she needs closeness. So I offered intensive belly to belly snuggling. Nope, not it. O.k. she wants to nurse, maybe she needs sleep. So I rocked and cooed. Nope, not it. O.k. she wants to nurse, maybe she needs FOOD!

That was it. A big cup of milk in the dim light of the night kitchen did the trick.

I think we all find ourselves at a loss sometimes when our child wants something and we are unwilling, or less commonly, actually unable to give it. Here is the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s list of needs. It  comes in handy when your child wants something or wants to do something that you find inappropriate (this is often called “being naughty”).

For example, your boy is hitting the wall, the dog, the snacks, with a stick and you don’t like it. In fact, perhaps it’s even against the rules to hit. You could punish him, you could explain the rules again, you could make sure a stick is never available to him ever again, or you could figure out the underlying need beneath the hitting. The need for a challenge? For purpose? For competence? For spontaneity? There are many possibilities, and in turn, so many possibilities to meet that need without involving timeouts, lectures, or constant vigilance.

And then sometimes (some times) you’ve considered the want, scoured the depths for underlying needs, tried several options for meeting suspected needs, and it still doesn’t work. The child still wants something that he can not have. Then what? Empathy. You hold them, listen to them, let them know that you hear them, and understand their desire.

You really want to hit the dog with the stick? You REALLY do. Are you sad that I am stopping you from doing that?  Are you mad that I interrupted your game? You want to keep doing it. It’s so fun for you. And you don’t want to hit a pillow or the grass, you want to do what you were doing.

The child does not get to keep hitting the dog, but he has been heard, understood, and loved. And he might cry for a long time, and he might be mad at you, and that’s o.k.

I was pretty sure this was the scenario Echo and I were headed for last night. I thought I might hold her until she sobbed herself to sleep, but thankfully for us all, we were able to meet her need instead. And sleep.

December 10, 2009 at 5:00 am 4 comments

oh perspective… you tricky beast

Xi and I sat on either side of a table today looking at the cell phone I use. It was facing toward me.

Xi said: Nallie, that looks wrong! It’s upside down.

I said, to demonstrate the concept: No, it’s right.

Then we spun it around and she said: Now it’s right.

I said: If I see wrong and you see right, is there really any plain old right or wrong?

She said: Nope. Only right for me, or right for you. Or wrong for me, or wrong for you. It just depends on who’s looking at it.

Aaah. Perspective.

Well now I’ll leap to the topic currently on my mind: co-parenting. I’m not talking about the kind of parenting that two parents do under the same roof. I’m talking about when two parents split up, and continue to parent “together”, while living under two different roofs.

Our family, as I’ve mentioned before, is a modern one. There is one papa, three girls, three mothers, and three different homes. So let’s just illustrate this more clearly, that is at least four distinct perspectives. If you add in our best friends, parents, or boyfriends, the number of perspectives concerning these girls can feel overwhelming.

The tricky thing about parenting everybody, for me, is that my own opinion feels right no matter how much intellectual distance I manage to achieve. I do an exercise demonstrating perspective with Xi in the morning, but by the evening lose track of that very concept, and find myself shaking my head wondering why the other parent is making the completely wrong choice.

Okay, no one is right or wrong. Perhaps the other parent is making the choices that feel absolutely right for them. I very stubbornly make room for this to be true. But I still have feelings about it.

This is how I currently feel about recent moves by a co-parent:

frustrated, annoyed, mad, irritated, sad, appalled, unsettled, displeased, tired, guarded, and troubled.

This is how I feel about these beautiful girls:

open hearted, tender, sympathetic, enchanted, amazed, thankful, tickled, pleased, trusting, and loving.

With these feelings on one hand and the other feelings on the other hand, it sure is tempting to turn on the fierceness of a mama tiger and just….. just do what? That’s the kicker.

I guess I will continue to revisit perspective exercises and use them not just on cell phones, but on my own life. I’ll use them even when all the data stacks up on my side, and even when my emotions are yanking me toward a sense of righteousness.

Oh, and empathy of course. For me, for them, for Nathan, and for the girls.

November 19, 2009 at 5:00 am 2 comments

empathy delivery


Welcome to the weekend friends.

My father and sister have gone and I am so sad. I kissed them goodbye and then sat down to write this as a way of soothing myself. By giving love and empathy to you, I also give it to myself. So here goes. I hereby present a beautiful bundle of empathy to any and all:

  • that long to be with a particular someone, or set of someones, every day, and due to distance, can not.
  • that have had a special week and are not looking forward to a “normal” day.
  • that feel tired.
  • that are cleaning up poop and pee several times a day as they potty train their child.
  • that are in tooth pain, having tooth worries, or facing impending, costly, dental work.
  • that are in store for a long day of travel.
  • that teach a class early on saturday mornings.
  • that live their life in relation to autism.
  • that ordered food at a restaurant and then later didn’t want that food, and their parents still wanted them to eat it.
  • that are allergic to dogs and even have to wear a ventilator to enjoy dinner parties at houses with dogs.
  • that are experiencing changes at their job.
  • that have a dog that is getting older and it’s starting to show.

I hope this helps.

November 6, 2009 at 5:02 am 4 comments

our kind of guy


You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the steelworker who’s been laid-off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.

These are words from our lovely president. We sent his daughters a Feeleez game. I hope they like it.

November 3, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

O stands for horse

I found myself musing about empathy skills today, when my children came up with some “feelings” they were feeling. For example:


This is a necklace Xi has been wearing lately. The “O”stands for horse, as in h.”O”.r.s.e. (I love the six year old mind and how it can modify any object, situation, or event to match their current obsession). So I asked her how she feels when she wears that necklace, and she said:

“I feel like I want to wear it for the rest of my life.”

Well, I surely can imagine a feeling such as this, but technically it lacks a certain… precision.

And then Echo has been making this face lately:


I showed her this picture and asked her how she feels when she is making this face. She said:

“Like I want to hit something.”

Again, the sentiment is crystal clear, but you wouldn’t find this emotion on the Center for Nonviolent Communication website.

On a side note, Echo really has been hitting things lately.

“This is my wacker-cracker! And I am going to whack you! Whack! Whack!”

“Ow! Your whacker-cracker is hurting me,

will you whacker-cracker something else?”

So I began to muse over empathy, and vocabulary. I certainly thought, in the back of my mind somewhere, that we were raising empathy geniuses. Well it turns out that I am just “above average” when it comes to empathy, according to this empathy test. Ha ha! Who knew?

This “news” sort of brought me back down to earth. I shouldn’t look for tests and vocabulary to verify empathic skills. Empathy is not meant for that realm. Instead, I should watch our six year old, who is afraid of cats, make room on the couch for our big feline beast. I should watch our two year old wield her whacker-cracker ever so gently against the tip of my shoe so that she can keep whacking, and I can stay safe. This is where to look. And, as it turns out, these girls are doing just fine. I don’t need a test to tell me that.

October 30, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

pumpkin empathy

Echo was feeling chipper and chatty tonight so I grabbed the camera. Earlier in the day we had escorted Kris, Elliott, and Sascha to the dentist for their appointment and I thought she might want to talk about it. It turned out she wanted to talk about the pumpkins decorating the lobby, something that had been bothering her, and I was able to put a little bit of empathy on film.

October 28, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

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