I had a parenting “aha” this summer.
You know the drill: Child A says something nasty to Child B. Child B retaliates. Stuff hits the fan. Someone gets hurt. Parent C intervenes.
After awhile, it becomes obvious (brilliant father that I am) that Child A is the problem.
We sit down to debrief. A good idea. The debrief usually includes some form of, “And how would you feel if you were Joel and he said that to you?”
Sigh. “I’d be sad?”
“Yes. You’d be sad. Wonderful. So don’t do it again.”
Except I just led Child A down the wrong path. They were hurting child B, and what did I do? I focused on how Child A would feel, if…
Isn’t the issue how child B felt? Not hypothetically, but actually? Isn’t part of the problem the fact that Child A is only thinking of how they feel, instead of thinking about how child B is feeling? And haven’t I just reinforced that bent by creating an exercise during which child A is encouraged to continue seeing the world through their own eyes?
Hint: The answer to all the above is YES.
A much better question: “How do you think Joel is feeling right now?”
“Yes, but go deeper.” Sad isn’t good enough for kids their age. I pull, I peel, I prod, until I’m sure Child A has spent at least a few seconds in Child B’s head.
Empathy doesn’t come naturally to kids (or many adults). It takes practice. Better get started.