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Learning Empathy

It was evening time. We were having our bedtime routine and then, he suddenly said: “Mom, I’m not starting camp tomorrow. I already know it will be boring and I will hate it”

I looked at him and all I could think about was the sofa downstairs, waiting for me to rest on it.

I smiled as widely as I could: “What?! It’s going to be great! You’re going to have so much fun!”

He looked back at me, with serious eyes: “It won't be fun and I’m not going!”

His voice made me realize that I’m not really listening. I’m not there for him.

I sat on the bed next to him. Asked some questions, listened and understood: it’s a new beginning in a new place. Not knowing anybody, getting used to something new, All over again.

I imagined him. A boy who went through a challenging year in a new country. He already got used to school and he loves it. Summer break presents him to new people and new places, changing camps and routines. It's hard. I get that.

I hugged him and promised that tomorrow I will pick him up early from camp. It helped.

When I'm working with parents, I emphasize the need for empathy. While It is one of the key elements in relationships it is so hard to accomplish.

Empathy is the ability to put myself in another person’s shoes for a short while. It is so important for developing relationships, preventing violence, and achieving personal and group success. It is the quality we expect to find in every human being, and yet it is so rare.

Children are not born empathic. One of my roles as an adult is to teach them. A few days ago, a friend introduced me to an article describing Danish schools which includes a weekly hour for practicing empathy. For me, it sounded like a dream come true

But before we all start complaining about the education system, I would like to take us back to the prime and primary education system: me and you. The parents. Each of us has the ability to teach our kids empathy.

Based on the Danish model, here are some tools to try at home:

Listening - The Danish students spend an hour listening to the difficulties their friends choose to share and together looking for solutions. Full listening at home, not distracted by phone calls, emails, or other obligations allows me to be 100% with the other person. I can notice his or her body language and see the full picture by reading between the lines. This way, there is a better chance that I will understand what the other person needs in order to feel better. I can not be more clear about it: listening is the key to empathy.

Teamwork - the article states that 60% of the tasks at school are carried out through teamwork. A family is a team. Even though every family has its leaders (the parents) who has greater responsibility, therefore will make the final decision, I believe it is agreed that when a family cooperates the atmosphere is good and the results are better and faster. Which tasks can kids perform with parents? What may be their contribution? Morning routine, making dinner, day trip schedule. The possibilities are endless. Since it is teamwork, the attention is paid to helping each other and learning from each other.

Competition is exclusively with oneself - No compartments between siblings or friends, no grades or prizes. Each family members Progress is measured exclusively in relation to themselves. This is the only way to motivate progress without creating jealousy.

Setting an example - I decided to add it after meeting my son at the end of the first day of camp: “Mom, I actually had fun today. I didn’t meet any friends yet, but at the beginning of the day I saw one of the girls in my group and she looked nervous. I went and talked to her a bit. I think it made her feel better”.

I smiled at him and reminded myself how important is our job as parents. It's not an easy one. It requires self-control, awareness , and constant learning. The kids are watching all the time, imitating, observing. It’s important we remember what we are teaching them.


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