Kids And Empathy

Real Relationship Advice


As parents of a child with Asperger’s, we had to do things a little differently. We had no idea how different the experience was until we had our second and third child. When it came to feelings, our children, at a young age were as different as day and night. Happily, nowadays, you can’t tell much difference. Even though we have discussed this before, it definitely bears repeating.

Empathy is no longer a given in our society. We have taken this idea of low self esteem and swung that pendulum so hard that we have two generations of self entitled people. We don’t say please and do not deign to say thank you. Our motto is respect but do not expect to receive any. Our entire society has become a cautionary tale for Emily Post.

The niceties are an extension of empathy. Unlike sympathy where you feel sorry for someone who has suffered some sort of loss, empathy is a much more powerful emotion. Empathy is the ability to feel what another feels. This is that specialness that connects us on a different level. This is the evocative emotion that tells you that a person is hurting and you feel the urge to cry. Empathy is what humanizes us (even though animals show empathy as well).

Our daughter has empathy but she is overwhelmed by the knowledge of it. Before it was teaching her to be aware of others, then identifying the emotion and now it is how to deal with the emotions that she feels. We do not feel that having Asperger’s makes her less but it does impede her ability to relate to others. By teaching her empathy, she not only can be part of a community she can be a healthier role model for said community. Our daughter’s ability to feel despite the diagnosis is a testament to how much she wants to be a part of society. To allow our children, with or without diagnoses, to steamroll over people and to believe that their feelings or desires are more important than anyone else’s is not only sad it is virtually criminal.

In a civil society, everyone knows their role. We know to stop at red lights. We know to cross the street when the little man is shown walking. We know that Saturday is a day off and that we probably should play the radio to loud at 3 am because people are sleeping. We know that whispering is polite and that shouting is only to be done in emergencies or sporting events. We don’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie house. In a civil society, we care about our fellow man. Today, we wonder why people do not take a moment to recycle. It’s obvious. If I am unwilling to say thank you why would I give two twits about sticking my Diet Coke can in the blue bin?

We teach kids things and wonder why they don’t learn them. Well here is the hint: lay the foundation. If you want your child to care then you teach them empathy. You remind them they are not alone in this house, neighborhood, city and planet. We remind kids that saying thank you and please should be automatic like breathing in and out. We go old school and have our children stand up and let the older person take their seat and shake hands to say hello. We model these same behaviors.

Feelings aren’t just about laughing, crying and getting angry. Feelings are a means of connection. Empathy is the key to bringing everyone together. It’s better than Cumbaya and We are the World.

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