Kids want what they want, when they want it, wherever they feel like having it.
They’re adorable little ids running wild, giving no real thought to anyone else in that moment. That description, with its distinct lack of empathy, makes them sound like tiny sociopaths, but when they’re very young, they’re not doing anything wrong because their brains are forming, they have that whole biological, animalistic, survival-of-the-fittest thing going on, and they’re figuring out the word around them.
As parents, we’re not doing anything wrong either. Actually, let me clarify that: We’re not doing anything wrong when they have those impulses. We are doing something wrong, however, when we don’t reign them in and teach them that it’s not funny to repeatedly hit someone over the head with a lightsaber and then do a victory dance afterward, especially once they’re out of toddlerhood.
I want to teach my kids a lot of things, but mostly, I want to teach them not to hurt people in all the ways that you can hurt someone else. Perhaps more important, I want to make sure that my kids don’t grow up to be adults who do the exact same thing—in even worse ways.
I want to teach my kids a lot of things, but mostly, I want to teach them not to hurt people in all the ways that you can hurt someone else.
Look, we all know that the comments section of an Internet article is not a good place to be, and yet, I’ve found myself drawn there recently. Part of it is to watch the train wreck that’s bound to be there. But part of me is also hoping that people will prove me wrong. I mean, people can’t be that consistently awful, can they? And even if there are a few proverbial bad apples, there can’t be more than a few, right?
Wrong and wrong. Always.
The other day, I had pretty much had it. Within the span of an hour, I read about a mother who was being blamed because her child had been killed…by another woman. I read a few stories about celebrities and regular women that elicited the standard body shaming we’ve all come to expect. But the proverbial straw that broke me was reading comments about the government shutdown and the people being affected by it—people worrying about how to pay their bills and put food on the table for their children, and people who were being forced to report to work because they have “essential” jobs but wouldn’t be able to afford childcare while they were working without pay.
In comment after comment, it was the same crap, which can be summed up in this one statement (which I may or may not have fixed grammatically so my head didn’t explode): “I don’t feel any sympathy for them. They should know that this could be a possibility. What kind of a person doesn’t save for a rainy day? Be more responsible. You shouldn’t be living paycheck to paycheck.”
I’m sorry, but if you think that way, it’s not that you don’t have sympathy—you don’t have empathy. And that is the exact opposite of the way that I want to bring up my kids.
And just a side note: This has nothing to do with politics. There are a variety of ways to solve the shutdown problem, and I’m not here to debate which is best. This is about common decency and understanding for the people being affected by it.
Yes, we all want to have a cushy rainy-day savings. We all should know that we could lose our jobs—and we do. But we hope that we won’t. We also hope that our rainy-day savings won’t be decimated by an unexpected tragedy. We hope that our spouse doesn’t get unexpectedly laid off when we’re relying on two incomes. We hope that a member of our family isn’t diagnosed with cancer, which, even if you have insurance, you’ll still likely have to pay thousands for before you reach your deductible and max out-of-pocket for the year. We hope that our kids won’t need services that insurance decides not to cover. We hope that our cars don’t need costly repairs. We hope that a natural disaster or an electrical fire or even a washing-machine flood doesn’t destroy our homes.
I am sick and tired of people not giving a damn about an issue that affects someone else until it affects them. Again, it’s called EMPATHY.
But you know what? Shit happens. It may have even have happened right before this shutdown, wiping out whatever savings people had indeed accrued. Or maybe some of these people hadn’t been working long enough to build up a proper nest egg. Or maybe they had been planning to save up but things kept getting in the way. Life is expensive, and in case you hadn’t heard, salaries haven’t kept up with the cost of living. Things also get particularly tricky when you have kids. (Side note to those Internet commenters saying you shouldn’t have had kids if you couldn’t afford them: See above. And shut up.)
If you are fortunate enough to have saved up enough to make it through a lengthy period of time without receiving a paycheck, you are lucky, plain and simple. I don’t care if you’ve saved. Unless you are a bazillionaire, one twist of fate can plunge anyone into a bad financial situation. Yes, anyone. Having empathy doesn’t negate personal responsibility; it just adds another layer of understanding and complexity to a situation.
And this money thing is just the tip of the iceberg. I am sick and tired of people not giving a damn about an issue that affects someone else until it affects them.
Again, it’s called EMPATHY.
This is why I’ve been teaching my kids about empathy from literally since before they could walk. Kids are never too young to start learning how to be a good human being, to think beyond themselves and put themselves in another person’s shoes. You may repeat yourself a lot and feel like you’re getting nowhere, but I promise you, keep at it and you will.
So, what am I doing?
When my kids hurt someone else, accidentally or intentionally, they immediately get removed from the situation and we have a talk. I may be appalled at the behavior, but I don’t yell and I don’t punish. Instead, once they’re calmed down, I recount what happened and ask them one very simple question: How would you feel if that had been done to you? The usual response is: “Sad.” OK, then how do you think that person felt when you did that? “Sad.” Yep. We’ll also talk about it again later to reinforce the lesson.
If they see another child not participating and being left out, we talk about how they might feel if they were in that position, as well as what they can do.
If they see a child being teased or bullied, same thing. And guess what? It works. My son has opened his mouth and stood up for other kids, even when it was uncomfortable for him. Why? Because he wouldn’t want to be in that position, and unfortunately, he actually has been there already and understands it all too well.
I don’t think it’s enough to teach them to be “good,” whatever that means. I think that we need to actively teach our kids to consider others and to understand that the reasons for a person’s situation aren’t always so black and white.
There is so much to talk about with our kids—poverty and hunger and discrimination and sexism and racism. I don’t think it’s enough to teach them to be “good,” whatever that means. I don’t think that adding in respect and kindness is enough either. I think that we need to actively teach our kids to consider others and to understand that the reasons for a person’s situation aren’t always so black and white…even with that bully who’s tormenting them at recess or the grown man who’s being a jerk from behind his keyboard.
It sounds basic, but the empathy issue doesn’t always get addressed. Once the immediate problem is resolved, things have a way of being forgotten. But that shouldn’t happen, not if we want our kids to be the people we hope they’ll turn out to be. There has to be an extra step that illuminates the larger issue and makes children more self-aware. I’m guessing that this is something those Internet commenters’ parents never did.
No, not every problem in the world can be solved with empathy alone, but it sure can go a long way. If we can teach that to our kids, they’ll be on the right track—and maybe this world will also get back on the right track someday, too.