“I just don’t want to be nice!” she yelled back at me. I had been awaiting a response and hoping for a change of heart—definitely didn’t expect that one. I thought for a second before responding, racking my brain for some sort of magic mom wisdom to kick in. “That’s ok,” I said. “You don’t have to feel like being nice, but you can’t be mean.” My feisty little four year old was fed up with her two year old little brother being in her room and “messing up” all her toys—so much so that she decided hitting said brother would be a good idea.
Disclaimer, I don’t use every fighting moment as a teachable moment…well because we’d be there all day everyday, am I right mamas? However, this time I felt I needed to dig deeper. I told her I wanted her to look at her brother’s face. I asked her to imagine what she might feel like if he had done this to her. She glanced her little eyes over and quickly darted them back again. I could feel the tension in her as she fought to stay mad while simultaneously feeling an inkling of empathy for the sad eyes of her brother. I let it sink in for a minute and then told her that even though she still felt like being mad, she needed to apologize to her brother because that’s how we make things right. It took some time, but she came around and before I knew it they were hugging and playing happily together (for like five minutes…because #reallife).
EMPATHY— “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.” I truly believe we all want to raise little people to exemplify this quality. We want our kid to be the one to run over when someone gets hurt. We want it to be our child who stands up for the one being bullied. We want our little people to be kind, compassionate and considerate of others. But, we have to be honest with ourselves. Are we taking the time to teach it and model it?
In my six years of teaching experience, I can tell you first hand it is not something we innately have as human beings. We are prone to pride and selfishness, because sin entered the world long ago and it wreaks havoc in our lives daily. However, as much as we are prone to selfishness, we are also greatly moldable (especially as children). When we find a better way, we usually take it. It feels good to make someone else feel better. It feels right to understand someone, and to bring justice and peace to a situation. Those feelings are highly encouraging and empowering.
So, when we got news this week that our neighbor’s wife had passed away, I told my daughter about it. I gave her the news and we just kind of sat there for a moment letting it sink in. Then she said, “Mommy, that’s so sad. Now he’s all alone.” I nodded in agreement. “Mommy, we should do something to make him feel better. He doesn’t even have anyone to play with now.” “You’re right, sis. So what should we do?” I asked. We decided chocolate chip cookies are always a good idea, and also a card for encouragement. I watched as she worked hard on a card filled with cheery flowers, hearts and her best letters. Because I let it be her idea, she experienced great buy-in and reward. The more we allow our kids the opportunities to show love to others in tangible ways, the more they will begin to think of it on their own.
We’re not perfect. We’re busy. We mess up. We apologize. We just try our best. I hope you walk away from this post not feeling defeated that you’re not doing enough, but rather inspired and empowered. Inspired to implement empathy in your home or maybe just talk out loud about what you’re already doing (which is most likely the case). Empowered because you are the biggest force of change in your family and by placing value on raising the “nice kid”, you play a role in setting forth a positive chain reaction for all future generations. Cheers, mama! You’ve got this!
P.S. Anytime I want to teach my kids about something important, I always want to know what the Bible says about it. Here are a couple of verses on empathy that I love. I use them with my daughter to explain the “why” behind compassion and kindness.
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:11
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.“ -John 15:12
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” -Ephesians 4:32