Reading, Understanding & Responding with Empathy

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Awakening the gift of character, empathy, in our children and ourselves is a three step process. First, we must learn to read a person, their facial expressions, gestures and body language. We are looking to see if we see the signs of joy, sadness, frightened, surprise, disgust, frustration, disappointment. Once we identify a possible emotion, we move to step two. Now we will try to understand how they are feeling.

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Developing empathy in a social media world

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There has been much conversation and even studies regarding the effect of social media on our ability to show or feel empathy for those around us. So far many of the studies have seen that both cognitive and affective empathy is improved with social media use. (Clinical Child & Family Studies, Utrecht University, Postbus 80140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands). After reading several research studies on this subject, with all of them agreeing to this result I had to ask myself if the results were clinical or the real world. In fact, some even reference a “virtual empathy.”

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Gifts of Character: Empathy – The Definition

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Each month we will discuss one life skill with all of our students. This month’s skill is Empathy. This life skill will be defined in the following ways for our students.

Young students: Empathy means: I can imagine how you feel!

Older students: Empathy means: Reading, understanding and responding to other people’s feelings.

We are not your typical after school activity, in fact, we are an education center, working with students on physical self-defense skills while empowering families to bring out the best in our children and ourselves – through the martial arts. We believe every child has 52 gifts in them already. They only need to be taught how to grow and use them in their life. Balanced Life Skills serves parents, teachers and students to reach that goal.

If you would like to see Joe Van Deuren and Balanced Life Skills at work, TRY CLASSES FOR FREE for 2 weeks.

Teaching children helpfulness is a boost to their self-esteem

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During the month of August, we have talked to our students about the idea of charity, giving to those in need.  Already we have discussed giving others our treasures including clothes, toys, or other things that have been valuable to us and we now can pass on to others for their use. We also discussed giving of our talent to organizations that have specific needs. If I had knowledge and skills in a specialty area or an interest in a particular cause that I can find a way to help out.

Kids want to be helpful, and they are self-centered at the same time. Which one will you encourage?

However, for young people with limited treasures and talent, it is important for them to learn the joy of helping others and they can do that with their time. A child need only be themselves to bring joy to a senior who does not get out very often. They might just sit with them and talk, play games or read to them.  They may be able to offer help to organizations to cheer on or run with other children who have disabilities. Sharing themselves and their time by volunteering helps them to awaken the virtue of empathy and compassion.

The benefits of helping children learn about charity are many. There is an amazing thing about kids. They want to be helpful, and they are self-centered at the same time. Which one will you encourage as the parent or teacher? By setting the example and including them on our giving of time will feed the “I want to help” side. By giving them the opportunity to choose how they would like to help others we are slowing down the self-centered attitude that comes naturally and is encouraged by so much of the media today.

Giving our time, leading our children to do the same gives kids a powerful boost in self-esteem. They learn that it is not just about writing a check, but giving of themselves that can help make a difference in the community and world today.

Six Skills every child needs to protect themselves

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There are six skills that I believe are necessary for every child to learn in a progressive manner, depending on their age that will both protect them from bullying and from being a bully.  In that all of us have the capability to be both – these 6 skills will be a protection to ourselves if we are targeted or if we have become aggressive.  Adult or child, it is likely that having a coach to work on these skills will be helpful.

What are the six skills?

  • Empathy
  • Assertiveness
  • Identifying social cues
  • How to be a friend
  • Self defense
  • Online safety skills

These six skills – and they are skills because they can be taught and we are not be able to turn it on / off at will – take time to develop and are best learned by seeing them modeled by our coach.  Parents – You are the Coach.  

None of these skills are going to be learned by a single sit down conversation where we tell our children what is expected from them or what they have to do.  All of the skills take time, and I suggest our 3 minutes a day concept.  Here is an example, using the very first skill listed, Empathy.

Respect, Empathy, Self-Control
Respect, Empathy, Self-Control

Empathy cannot be taught in passing.  Parent’s are concerned about a child when they have hurt the feelings of another person.  It is easy to say, “think about their feelings”, but for a child they are most likely thinking about their own feelings, so these words mean very little to them.

Empathy comes from the inside of a person – not from the words of others from the outside.  So we must begin by giving our child the words they need to describe their own feelings.   Those ‘emotion’ words must be taught and then used by parents and child in describing how they are feeling.  Doing this when our children are young and continuing will give them the start to a vocabulary to describe their feeling.  Then those feeling words can be applied to what we see is happening to others.  As they get older we can do more reflection with them.
In our class,  “The Truth About Bullying”   we will discuss each of the six skills and how to teach them to our children in more detail.  You will be really surprised at our definition and practice of Self Defense.  Come to our class on Saturday, September 27 at 10 AM or schedule Joe Van Deuren to present this information to your own parent group.

Walk a mile in your child’s shoes

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empathyPerhaps you never gave it much thought, but empathy is a huge part of being a person of  integrity. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to see and feel things from their perspective allows you to make better choices. When you can understand what it is like to be lied to, stolen from, made fun of… you are less likely to do those things to other people. That said empathy is not a trait that people are born with. Babies enter this world with just the capacity to be empathetic, but it is parents who must help them develop the actual trait.

The number one way that children learn empathy is when they are treated with empathy.  When we become empathetic parents we are showing our children that we respect them, that we are willing to see things from their side, that we value their thoughts and accept them for who they are. Basically when we walk a mile in our children’s shoes we are modeling integrity, compassion, and of course empathy.

Being an empathetic parent is not always easy. Children by nature can push our buttons.  But studies show that parents who are more empathetic tend to have better relationships with their children filled with honest open communication. They also tend to be less stressed! Yes you read correctly.  Empathetic parents tend to be less stressed because their children are better able to manage their own difficult emotions, can soothe themselves and get angry less often.

It’s easy to be empathetic when your child is feeling hurt, sad or afraid… but what about all those other times… especially when they are being testing and rude? This is when being empathetic is even more important. The first thing we need to do is listen, listen, and um yeah… listen. Our job is to help them to feel understood. We must learn to not take their anger or frustration personally. We need to remain calm, flexible and willing to adjust our language, thoughts, and actions. This does not mean that we are condoning negative behavior; instead we are empathizing and then affirming our belief that they will do the right thing.

When we parent our children with empathy, it puts us and our children on the same side of any problem. When we show empathy, it sends the message to our children that they are safe to make mistakes and encourages them to take responsibility when they do. When we show empathy it helps our children to think of others, to be more accepting of difference, to appreciate honesty and most of all to have the self-confidence to do the right thing even when it’s not the most popular choice. In other words, empathetic parenting helps us to raise children of integrity!