Doing Builds Empathy
April 15, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Social Action, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Doing Builds Empathy

p_2857137It is safe to say that parents are most prideful when they see their child reach out to someone in distress. An act like that is the physical manifestation of empathy, the ability to feel what someone else is feeling.

Even very young children show the ability to act on their empathic feelings. For instance, the giving up of a favorite toy when their friend is sad about not having it.  School age kids show empathy by going to sit at lunch with the new person in school, knowing how hard it must be to feel so self-conscious and alone. Teenagers welcome friends to their house knowing the scene at the friend’s home is less than comfortable.

So we are really talking about a feeling plus an action.  Humans are hard wired for empathy and it’s watering, like a seedling, helping it to grow and strengthen. Although this innate compassion exists, we must teach children to act upon their empathic feelings.

For starters, being able to relate to someone is crucial. Putting your emotions to action and actually helping others out takes it to another level.  Jane E. Brody has a very nice piece about empathy in the Science section of The New York Times. The article gives great guidelines about fostering empathy in children. She points out the importance of modeling for children. Humans are incredible in their abilities because they are able to learn vast and complex social behaviors from imitation. So as parents, we can’t just talk about empathy and practice empathic interactions within our families, we need to do empathy.

Doing empathy is writ large and small. It is doing volunteer work for people who have much less or are affected by a natural disaster such as Haiti or Katrina. It is practicing non-judgmental talk in your home and the strict avoidance of skewering other people as dinner time sport. Doing empathy is cooking for someone who has a new baby, or going to someone’s funeral. There are countless opportunities to do empathy and model the wonderful sense of purpose and happiness it brings to help out, even in very small ways, in other people’s lives.

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Phoebe Prince’s Death: A New Look At Bullying
April 8, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Social Action, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

bullyingPhoebe Prince, the high school girl who hung herself last week, was purportedly “bullied” to death. Tortured is more like it. Hounded, cursed, humiliated in school and on-line. Defining bullying clearly is critical. Many adults think of bullying as a rite of passage in childhood. Clearly there is a difference between being picked last in gym class and being targeted by an individual or group of kids whose aim is to intimidate and shame.  Today’s landscape for children is also markedly different in that Facebook and email amplifies and exacerbates the intensity of peer relationships.We need to take a fresh look at bullying.

“Peer Abuse” is a phrase that more clearly defines the difference between teasing and belittling. “Peer Abuse” includes not only the physical aggression most associate with bullying, but also the verbal and emotional abuse that are a part of situations like Phoebe’s.

“Peer Abuse” are repeated acts over time of physical assault, psychological manipulation, name calling and using social power to ostracize an individual or group. This goes against our commonly held belief that bullies are loners, having been rejected socially. New research shows that it is often popular kids that use subtly abusive tactics to put down others to maintain their social status. Becoming the victim of malicious bullying can happen for a variety of reasons.

The message here for parents is that any of our children can, and most likely will be aggressive or cruel to other children at some point. Make this an open discussion in your family: Model respectful behavior, take seriously claims that your child is being bullied, talk about the pressure and responsibilities that come with popularity. Teach your child to speak up and stand up if someone is being abused. Adults need to do the same. The stakes are too high to be complacent.

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Snark Alert! Sarcasm Stings
March 4, 2010 · Posted in Adult Children, Communication, Fatherhood, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (2)


This post from Straight Talk On Relationships reminds us that our tone and general attitude toward our partner influences the relationship greatly. Often times what we think is ‘all in good fun’, really puts a rift in the communication.


By Lisa Merlo Booth

Lately I’ve been seeing the effects of sarcasm everywhere.  Whether it’s watching my own family, my friends’ families or the families of my clients, sarcasm still has that same familiar sting.  Sarcasm comes from the Greek word sarkasmos or sarkazein, which means to tear flesh, or to bite the lips in rage.

The purpose of sarcasm is to mock others.  The better the cut-down, the funnier we think it is.  Sarcasm hurts because it is meant to hurt.

Sarcasm is often an unspoken truth, judgment or resentment wrapped up as a joke.  We throw out a comment and then follow it up with a smile or a chuckle and think that’s okay.  It’s just a little joke.  Unfortunately, the smile or chuckle does not soften the sting.

Regardless of whether it’s an older brother greeting his little sister with “Hey mighty mouth,” a friend saying “Nice of you to show up on your time frame,” or a cousin chiding another cousin with “You always could eat. couldn’t you,” sarcasm is often a caustic attempt at humor.

Sarcasm has become a way for many people and families to connect.  They learn to constantly rib each other as a way of communicating.  They think when the ribbing hurts, it must be because the target is too sensitive.  Seldom do we actually think that the person is hurt because of what we said.  It must be, we think, because they don’t know how to take a joke.

Not surprisingly however, sarcasm is often funniest to the person who’s speaking it.  Typically it’s not nearly as funny to those on the receiving end. Unfortunately, when (and if) those on the receiving end try to stand up for themselves, the speakers tell them they can’t take a joke.  The target then begins to question themselves and try their best to ignore the sting.

When it comes to sarcasm and teasing, however, the rules to follow are simple;
•    If it stings—it’s not funny
•    Just because you say it with a smile and a chuckle, doesn’t mean it’s funny or it doesn’t hurt
•    If the person on the receiving end says they don’t like it or it hurts, then stop it—it hurts.

I love a great sense of humor and would never tell people to stop being playful.  Just make sure that when you’re using humor, it’s not at someone else’s expense.  That takes the humor out of it.

CHALLENGE:  Watch sarcasm in the world.  Pay attention to all the “jokes” at others’ expense and see if you can catch the underbelly or sarcasm.  If someone in your life doesn’t like your teasing or sarcasm, stop dismissing what they’re saying and LISTEN.  Be playful—not hurtful.  NOTE:  the person on the receiving end is the judge of whether or not what you said is hurtful—not you.

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Can’t Spank? Then Scream.
February 23, 2010 · Posted in Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, Fatherhood, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

screamingThe New York Times article, For Some Parents Shouting is the New Spanking, by Hillary Stout,  bravely shines the light on a slightly taboo topic. In many parenting circles, spanking is a discipline tool of the past.Whether or not parents actually resort to spanking is another story.

When it comes to screaming, however, it often seems accepted as a matter of course. Everyone  has a reflexive, knee jerk stance based on family of origin. If you came from a family of screamers, yelling might feel completely normal. Many people feel it is an ethnic rite or genetically encoded behavior. Others remember their parents yelling and screaming and the fear that it engendered. These parents do a yeoman’s job of controlling their tempers, but nevertheless find themselves overtaken by fury and frustration at times. Some grew up with simmering issues but no communication, so “letting it all out” can feel like a healthier way.

The problem is that yelling and screaming can feel so damn good while you are doing it. You feel powerful, like you are someone to be reckoned with, self-righteous and entitled.  After all, what human being can cope with the amount of badgering, whining, and defiance that kids dish out. In actuality, the desire to yell actually comes from the opposite place: a place of helplessness, feeling overburdened and incompetent. Screaming and yelling bring false empowerment. True power is when parents control themselves, for example, putting their child in their room without yelling or ranting or being able to take away privileges in a three word sentence like “No TV tomorrow!!”

Unfortunately, the nature of children and the culture we live in has the deck stacked against parents. Kids need repeated reminders, often years of reminders to do things like saying please and thank you, coming to the dinner table and not smashing their siblings. Our culture is all about getting what you want by taking no prisoners.  Given those forces, staying respectful calls for a kind of determination, focus and self control that seems only a zen master could muster. The good news is that self control can be learned. Start with this rule. Screaming, name calling, ranting and shaming is NOT ALLOWED. It is a boundary violation and something to avoid. Remember, it is not our right as a parent.

Since most people are not zen masters, realistically you probabaly will yell or scream when you are in your most helpless and overwhelmed state. Treat it as if you had hit your child. After you calm down, apologize. Remind them that it wasn’t OK, and that you are really focused on learning to control that behavior, just like they are.

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Teen Relationship Bill of Rights
February 18, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

This is fabulous way to talk to your teens or even tweens about the rules of healthy relationships.bill_of_rights_iStock_000007427085XSmall1

The Relationship Bill of Rights

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

1.    It’s your right to have feelings for anyone you choose. Your friends may have opinions worth listening to, but who you’re friends with or who you love is your choice.
2.    You have the right to express your feelings or to keep them to yourself. Just because you have feelings for someone doesn’t mean you have to tell anyone or do anything about it.
3.    You have the right to feel safe. It’s important to feel physically and emotionally safe at all times when you’re with another person. If you don’t, speak up and/or get out of the situation ASAP.
4.    You have the right to be treated with respect. You deserve the chance to express your thoughts and feelings without fear. You have the right to be listened to by the other person. And what you have to say should be respected.
5.    You have the right to your own time (without being guilt-tripped). You can spend all the time you like away from the other person—whether that’s to hang out with other friends, be with family, or do something on your own.
6.    You have the right to say no. It’s your body and no one should pressure you when it comes to getting physical. It’s also your right to say no to alcohol or drugs. If the other person ignores your “no” then they’re disrespecting you. (See #4)
7.    You have the right to open, honest communication, If something’s going on in the relationship, you and the other person need to talk about it.
8.    You have the right to end a relationship. It doesn’t matter what your reasons are. If you want out, get out. You don’t have to justify or explain how you feel to anyone.

Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens.
Read excerpts from her books: Too Stressed to Think? And the new Middle School Confidential™ series.
Download (free) her entire Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating,
Listen to her podcast series “Family Confidential: Secrets of SuccessfulParenting”

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Tweens, Teens and Technology
February 2, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Media, Parenting, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (2)

TextMessageA recent article in The New York Times, If Your Kids Are Awake They’re Probably Online, reported powerful data regarding children and their “screen time”.

“The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago, when the study was last conducted. And that does not count the hour and a half that youths spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones.”

While technology is here to stay –for good or bad– parents should not give up their role in limiting media use and monitoring what is going on online.

Here are some basic tips for keeping tabs and limits on your children’s “screen time”:

  • Know how to use all technology. Stay current and educated about how to text, use Facebook, ichat and skype. Stay in the loop on the kinds of communication systems your child and their friends are using. One way to get closer to teens is to have them teach you — let them be the expert and you be the student.
  • All teens are on Facebook and many adults are as well. Starting your own Facebook page and being “friends” with your teen — even if they block you from seeing some information, will keep you tuned in to what is going on with them. Even if they resist and think you are “creepy and old”, it will become commonplace and accepted after a while.
  • Make sure your kids are not sleeping with their phones. Texting becomes addictive and kids are often texting late into the night long after you are sound asleep. Maybe make a family charging station where all phones are charged at night and retrieved in the morning. Protect your child’s sleep!
  • Set time limits for TV, computer and video game use. You do not have to allow your child to use media eight hours a day!
  • Make rules that children and adults adhere to at home. No texts, email, phone or TV at dinner, or when you are walking children to school. Set a good example.
  • Have a healthy distrust for new technology but embrace it as well. It is here to stay and if you can’t beat ’em-join ’em with care!
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