My daughter has been having difficulty with a girl at school. This girl “Mary” became a bit of a stalker and it became quite intense.

It was manageable during school hours, but it was the constancy of exchanges on Instagram that became overwhelming. Relentless messages from Mary accusing my daughter of bad behaviour. Mary snapping a photo of my daughter’s private messages, where she revealed her crush and then showing him. Not cool. In the end, we advised our daughter to block Mary, at which point the girl jumped on to my account. Yikes, it was intense.

A meeting was held at school and the cyber issue was resolved. Several minor incidents occurred thereafter, but nothing that we couldn’t handle.

Then, one day my daughter came home from school furious. We sat down as I listened to the drama that had unfolded this time. Mary had taken a rotten piece of fruit and had thrown it at one of the boys. This particular boy is very shy, a bit of a recluse, an easy target. The fruit hit him. He did not respond and simply continued staring at the floor. My daughter then flew into action (she has a very strong moral compass).

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears
of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler

Having been bullied many times herself, my girl has zero tolerance for bullying in any way, shape or form. She ran over to see if the lad was okay. He smiled, thanked her and said that he was fine. She then marched quick-smart over to Mary and confronted her. She told her that it was bullying and in no way acceptable and if it happened again, she would report her. Mary responded by telling my daughter how hard her life was. A single-parent family (Dad), sister moved out, mother allegedly estranged and ill with drug use, cat just died etc.

I sat and listened to my daughter’s (justified) outrage. Then I responded in a way that shocked my daughter. I replied by telling her that Mary was right. My daughter sat dumbfounded. Demanding a reason for my opinion, she listened as I explained that Mary was right and that my daughter did indeed have an ‘easy-life’. I compared her life to Mary’s life and told her that there was no comparison. I explained that it did not justify or excuse what Mary had done and praised my daughter for standing up for what was right. But, it didn’t change the fact that Mary faced many more challenges in life than her and perhaps didn’t have the same sort of guidance she receives.

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I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a single parent, particularly a Father raising a daughter. In my house, I do the emotional care-guidance-type-stuff. I take my hat off this single Dad, who has both my respect and admiration, but I feel that his child may be a little lost at the moment.

I went to the school and explained the background that we have with Mary and the past incidents. I explained that I had noticed on Instagram how sad her posts often were. The most challenging thing that I faced in the school was trying to explain to them that I wasn’t there to complain about Mary, I was there to inform them that I felt that she was struggling. I was finding it quite challenging to get my point across. I was asked if I felt that Mary was acting out to get attention. Absolutely! was my reply, so how about we give her some before it’s too late? Mary is isolated from her peers and every attempt to infiltrate a group is isolating her further. She has a very low self-esteem and spends her time attacking those her around her verbally and physically in an attempt to gain some control and leverage with her peers, but achieves the polar opposite. She is generally melancholy and finds it difficult to see all of her many qualities, she needs someone to help her with that.

The school still seemed perplexed as to why I was at school telling them these concerns about a child who was not my own. Does a child have to be from me for me to care and worry for them? Not in my universe!

Be caring, tender, sympathetic

Finally, the words that helped them to understand my intention to help Mary was this. “I’m alerting you to the fact that Mary needs some guidance and help. I’m asking the school to please ‘plug-in’ to her life. Today, I am here as Mary’s substitute-mother.”

I hope that if ever the need arises, someone would do the same for any of my four children.

What I learned from this experience is that our kids need to be equipped with tools to help them empathize with another’s plight. To see past the behaviour they may not like and understand there may be a real and justifiable cause.

As a Counsellor and positive thinking coach, I’m passionate about teaching children empathy.

Tips for teaching empathy at home:

  • Listen to what your child has to say.
  • Discuss the situation at hand from your child’s point of view.
  • Discuss the pros and cons of their response.
  • Praise their openness in sharing this information with you, communication is so important.
  • Support your child by pointing out all of the good that they received and how they can improve their position in the future.
  • Highlight all of their personality strengths and how this will help them in later life.
  • Then explore the position of the other child.
  • Discuss the possible reasons why the other child behaved in the way they did.
  • Explore how that other child may have been feeling to react in such a way.
  • Discuss how lucky your family is and that not all families are as blessed with money/values/morals/kindness/insight/empathy/tolerance/lo., e etc whatever is relevant to you.
  • Encourage your child to be a role model and inspiration to those around them and explain how in the process they may well illuminate the path for others.
  • Model tolerant and empathetic behaviour yourself. Be kind to the rude cashier, patient with grumpy people, polite to the daily irritations in your life. Discuss these types of incidents with your child.I once dealt with a very irritating/frustrating situation with calmness and kindness, only to have the ‘incompetent’ shop assistant then break down in tears because her father died suddenly the day before. That lady was not incompetent, she was grieving. My kids still talk about this and how relieved they were that we had shown that lady love and kindness instead of being impatient and annoyed.
  • Be a shining light of kindness in your day-to-day world and encourage your children to do the same.
  • Spread the abundance of love and joy that you have to give. You are a gift to the world and the world will benefit by you, and your children, being in it.

What have you found works for you when teaching your kids empathy? What would you add to this list?

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Cathy DomoneyAuthor: Cathy Domoney, Positive Thinking Children’s Author
Cathy holds a Diploma in Counselling, Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy. With a BA Hons in Sociology & History along with a Certificate in Life Coaching, she offers the complete package that is destined to make changes in the lives of children through her books. When teaching she helped pupils & colleagues with self-esteem issues. Cathy knows how positive-thinking can impact on a child’s experience of the world & passionately shares this knowledge with parents & teachers.

Cathy’s Book

9781452507613Madeleine, Maddy & Midge – Positive Thinking for Children
Madeleine has two secret friends, Maddy and Midge. Maddy’s happy messages make Madeleine feel tall, strong and full of confidence.
Midge however, fills Madeleine with worries, troubles and doubt and makes her feel small, scared and alone. Madeleine has found the magic spell so that Maddy’s voice will be all she will hear and Midge will disappear like the ‘Pop’ of a bubble. Madeleine has the power to decide whether to be happy or sad. The question is, what will she decide? Madeleine, Maddy & Midge contains a powerful message of self-esteem and confidence for children. It is more than just a story book, it is a literary friend. Complete with parent and teacher activities Madeleine, Maddy & Midge is a valuable resource tool.
Get Cathy’s book here.

One Response to Substitute Mother – Teaching My Daughter Empathy
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