The Giving Season: Teaching Your Child Empathy

Our children learn a lot from us- how to treat others is one of those lessons. During this time of the year, we remind our children to give back and care about others.

Most kids are pretty good at showing empathy- the ability to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Some kids need a little extra help in this department, and that’s okay.

Kids on the autism spectrum and those that have other special needs may need help with this. For example, Julian has had serious issues learning empathy and we work on it almost daily.

Empathy is important for a child’s well-being because it helps build happy and healthy relationships. It can also help prevent bullying and other destructive behaviors/relationships.

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Working Towards Empathetic Kids

How can we teach our kids to be more empathetic?

  • By being more empathetic ourselves. This means tuning in to what each of our kids needs, physically and emotionally. It also means cherishing their individual personalities and loving your kids as they are, not what you may want them to be. This also means being showing empathy to others, because our kids watch what we do. They watch how we interact with others in public, our friends and other family members.
  • Make caring for others a priority. This can vary among families, but many families value taking care of family whenever needed however possible. For example, my kids know that my mom has mobility issues because of her knee replacements, so they help her walk down our very steep driveway. They have watched Matthew help his mom’s family numerous time because he’s great with cars and home projects. I try to help my friends as much as possible and the kids have also seen this.
  • Provide opportunities for kids to show empathy. We have done role-playing games with Julian as part of therapy. Over time, those have sunk in a bit, and so has discussing real-life issues in sessions. If you have a kid on the spectrum, you can imagine how difficult this lesson can be to teach. It is starting to get slightly easier. We discuss school and news issues because we are a pretty diverse family and this has created some very interesting discussions. When we took in Miss Purr and Tiger, those were two great times to display empathy, because rescue pets require that. My kids fell in love with both animals instantly. When Tiger’s tumor ruptured, Julian may have been the saddest person in the house. He insisted on sleeping with him the last night before he was put to sleep. When I woke him up for school, he was holding Tiger’s paw. The kids were genuinely worried about Tiger and devastated when he was gone.
  • Teach your child to identify their feelings and how to cope with negative feelings. Kids need to know how to identify how they feel so that they can deal with it. They need to be able to express themselves- it can be confusing to not know how to describe how you feel. It can feel worse to not know how to cope with negative feelings. Let your child know what ways are and are not acceptable to deal with those feelings so that when they are angry, sad or feeling other ways, they don’t have to wonder how they can cope.
  • Ask “How would you feel?” This may sound simple, but it can be effective. I have done this often and it will make a child think a bit deeper than you may think. Let the child pause and reflect for a few minutes (if needed). They may not know how they would feel at first and need the extra time. Maybe they haven’t thought about it before.

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Teaching empathy may take some time, the earlier you start, the better. Have a great holiday season with your family!

How do you encourage your children to care about others? Do you have a favorite story about your child being empathetic to another child? Share if you do!

Information courtesy of Very Well Family

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Pics courtesy of Unsplash

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Song Lyric Saturday with Fiona Apple

**Trigger Warning: sexual assault is briefly mentioned in this post.**

I saw Fiona Apple live years ago with my best friends, Ashley and Tyson. I’d share pictures, but I don’t think they are exactly blog-appropriate. I’ll leave it at that it was a very fun night and as usual, we had a few adventures that still make us laugh hysterically. We have been friends for many years (Tyson and I have known each other since elementary school) so this just adds to the comedy.

Fiona came onto the music scene in the late 1990s with her first album and many were like “Whoa, what is that?” I was one of many who thought that way. She has a low-pitched voice that makes you want to hear more, and I definitely wanted more. Tyson plays the piano very well, and he was wide-eyed at the concert. Ashley loved both aspects, so we were delighted at the concert.

Fiona Apple

I chose “Criminal” after some serious debate.

“I gotta cleanse myself of all these lies until I’m good enough for him”

That is some realness. Fiona was sexually assaulted at 12, and I can’t imagine the pain that causes, emotionally and physically. I’ve read that her music was an outlet for her afterward. Sometimes you feel so wretched, so dirty after something that awful, you have to clean yourself inside and out until you feel okay for someone to like or love you.

I can’t really speak for Fiona, but that’s the way I interpret it. In my own case, I had to confess everything that I did with Jake to Matthew and that was one of the worst conversations I’ve ever had. Tears were everywhere and it was awful. It took a long time before I could feel like I was good enough for him again. As my former therapist said, I’m still a good person- I did something that wasn’t good.

I’ve been able to make up for this in every way that I can- I would never cheat again.

Wonder women

My Experience with Body Image Issues

I’m 35 with three kids.

My body has been through a lot of changes.

The Mommy Bod

Before kids, which now seems like eons ago, I struggled with my looks and weight. I’m 5’2″ and not the most athletic type. I have curly hair which I used to hate. Growing up, I rarely saw models in magazines that looked even close to me. If I did, they were skinny with straightened hair.

I just wanted to look like everyone else but that was not possible. I couldn’t change my skin tone, hair or any other physical characteristics. I got busy with school and work but stayed at a decent weight. Over time, I even started liking my curls.

These pictures represent my weight loss and gain in the last few years. After kids, I got up to almost 200 lbs. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in late 2009 (which I no longer have thanks to diet, exercise and losing weight) and got serious about my weight. I wanted to be healthy for my kids.

A Sharp Turn

In 2013, that weight loss took a different turn. My anxiety kicked into overdrive because of the issues I was having with Matthew. I began thinking if I was skinnier, things would get better. I tend to not eat much when I’m stressed so this became a bigger issue. I would eat one meal daily for days on end due to stress. Sometimes it felt like I was punishing myself in a way for not being the wife and mom I was “supposed” to be. I may have been punishing myself for making Matthew so angry. I also spent lots of time in the gym- at least an hour four days a week. I’d have done more if I had time.

At my lowest weight, which was August 2015, I was 125 lbs and a size 4. I was so small that my co-workers asked if I was sick. My doctor told me that my pancreas, already not able to produce all the insulin I needed, might give out entirely and result in Type 1 diabetes if I didn’t stop losing weight and pushing myself so hard. I’m not sure I cared. I loved the way I looked- I finally fit into a string bikini but I was so nervous about it I didn’t want to take off my cover up. (A friend yanked it off, but in a good way.) I don’t think Matthew cared either way- he had seen me before and after three pregnancies. It’s not like he saw me naked much at this point.

Jake was worried- one of his last worries about me was that I was too skinny. He told me I was still gorgeous but I needed to gain “like 5 or 10 pounds.”

Jake got his wish, but he didn’t live to see it. I gained 60 pounds after his death. I ate, drank and didn’t think about exercising for a long time. I was deep in a hole of grief and depression.

Comeback of the Curves

I stopped drinking and move around a bit more these days. My pancreas survived and it’s functioning quite well. Thanks to having RA, it can be a bit rough but I do what I can to exercise. One of my medications has a side effect that messes with my appetite but I’m not going to be upset if I lose a few pounds. I don’t weigh myself- there isn’t a scale in my house. I’m not entirely sure what I weigh,my best guess is around 170. I’m a size 12/14. I’m okay with this. I’m happier, I’m funny again, I love food, I’m healthy as I can be, and I got my curves back. The second picture is me in Daytona Beach in August. I look much better.

I can’t say there was a moment where everything clicked and I stopped going so hard on my body. I was a little sad when I didn’t fit size small sweats in late 2015, but I had much worse things to deal with. While I was in therapy, I worked on how I saw my body. It’s been through a lot, and I realized I should have a lot more love for it. There’s three people that are on this planet because I grew them inside my body. I lived through a mini-stroke. I have two chronic health conditions but they are manageable. I’ve had three major surgeries (tubal, gallbladder removal and a partial thyroidectomy). I may have a few rolls but there are curves, stretch marks, surgery scars and tattoos.

I still have bad days like every other woman but I remind myself of where I have been. I remind myself that I’ve looked a lot worse and that I’ll probably look different in a few years. I’m good where I am now.

Tips for Better Body Image

It can be very difficult to change how you feel about your body.

My helpful tips?

1. STOP LOOKING AT MODELS FOR VALIDATION.

I’ll confess, I’m a huge fan of Tess Holliday. She’s a plus size model, and I love her message. I don’t look at her or other models anymore for what I should look like. I like her because she has amazing red hair, great makeup and #effyourbeautystandards is empowering. If you’ve never heard of her please look her up on Google. I like a handful of other models but for makeup and other reasons. Models work extremely hard to look like they do and it’s almost unrealistic for most of us to pull it off.

2. Remember what your body has done for you. Have kids? Even one kid changes your body permanently. If you’re a runner like my friend Lauren, there’s a lot of maintenance involved that I don’t want to imagine. She looks fantastic. I’m sure she will thank herself later in life for keeping herself in such great shape. (I hate running. I don’t even run to my mailbox.)

3. Realize that you are more than just what your body looks like. This may take a bit of work in the self-esteem department (lots of work for me) but it is well worth it. Everyone has interesting and/or quirky qualities about them that are likable besides what their body looks like. Do the work- make a Pinterest board of quotes, write in a journal about it. Talk to someone if you need to. The work will be worth it.

Have you had issues with body image? How did you work through it?

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

My Random Musings

Adjusting to a New World

Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.

But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?

Cry a little

The Big Change

Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.

The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.

In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?

He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.

I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.

Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.

This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.

I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.

Never give up

It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.

Making The Best of Things

Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.

Small steps

It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)

If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.

He dropped the jar.

Major mom fail.

Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.

Super parent

Final Thoughts and Tips:

If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.

Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.

Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.

Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.

You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.

If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn

Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.

Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

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