Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Help develop your kids’ emotional maturity

Stress for Success

September 17, 2013

Empathy means seeing through another’s eyes to understand their point of view, a skill licensed counselors are trained to develop and a vital trait for parents, as well.

Empathy is valuable for everyone. For example, as an older patient, wouldn’t you want your younger physician to understand the physical challenges from aging? A study had young, healthy medical students simulate the difficulties of old age by wearing, for example, transparent tape-covered goggles to mimic cataracts. After the experiment, the students showed greater empathy towards the elderly, preparing them to be better physicians (Varkey et al 2006).

Another powerful example was presented by a theater group of schizophrenics helping others understand what they experience. They placed a non-schizophrenic volunteer in a chair. Then, several schizophrenics swooped in and out whispering disturbing thoughts into the volunteer’s ears. You could hear a pin drop in the room. The volunteer turned white. Do you think greater empathy for the schizophrenics was achieved?

As parents you must role-model this trait for your kids if you want them to develop it. Benefits to them include managing their own emotions better thereby becoming more emotionally mature and lower stress than kids who don’t have much empathy.

To teach empathy here are five ideas from anthropologist, Gwen Dewar, Ph. D., (http://www.parentingscience.com/parenting-blog.html). 

1.    Use stories from books and TV programs to encourage your kids to look through the characters’ eyes and guess what they think, want and feel. What is the character communicating verbally and nonverbally to lead them to guess as they do? This helps them understand how others’ minds work and demonstrates that not everyone interprets situations the same way.

2.    Play the game, “make a face.” Tell your children to make a sad face and they can actually experience the sad emotion. Researchers tracked brain and physical activity during this game and found kids’ brains, heart rate, skin conductance, and body temperature change (Decety and Jackson, 2004.)

To build greater empathy with someone, imitate their facial expressions. People who are naturally empathic automatically do this when they listen to someone who’s distraught. This mirroring builds rapport so the person feels more understood therefore trusting of you.

3.    Help your children develop a strong sense of morality that depends upon internal self-control versus rewards or punishments.

Studies have shown that children become less likely to be empathic when they are given material rewards for doing so. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

Kids are more likely to develop an internal sense of right and wrong when administered discipline is rationally explained including the moral consequences of their misbehavior versus random rules and harsh punishment. To help them develop moral principles, show them how their wrong-doing affects other people (Hoffman and Saltzein, 1967).

4.    Teach your older kids about moral detachment. Frightening research demonstrated that average, well-adjusted people can be persuaded to harm others, even torture them, as long as they are given the right justification. Yale University’s Stanley Milgram’s experiments told psychologically “normal” research subjects that they were participating in an experiment that required them to administer painful electric shocks to another person (Milgram, 1963). The experiment was fake (no real electric shocks or victim). The subjects, however, administered what they thought were real shocks to screaming victims. Almost 65% of participants continued to press the button even after the victim appeared to be unconscious! Why? Because they were told to by a credible authority figure. Kids can also experience moral detachment.

My mother explained to us to not assume we’d keep our grip on morality when we insisted that had we been Europeans during WW II we would definitely have protected Jewish people in our homes. She wisely said that we couldn’t know that unless we actually experienced the atrocities.
5.    Give the gift of security and love to your kids through caring interactions and physical affection to boost their oxytocin levels. Oxytocin, a hormone, helps mitigate some of the damage of the stress hormones.

Higher levels of oxytocin may also help people better understand others’ nonverbal behavior. Researchers had 30 young adult males inhale oxytocin and then examine photographs of other people’s eyes. Compared to men given a placebo, the oxytocin men more accurately interpreted the photographed people’s emotions (Domes et al 2006).

Kids can better interpret others’ emotional signals if they regularly experience positive interactions at home like hugs, smiles and positive feedback (Uvnäs-Moberg 2003).

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html.  Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Empathy is a stress reducing trait in anyone, especially in childrens for Stress for SuccessSeptember 3, 2013

Empathy means understanding, compassion and responsiveness. When you’re upset and someone empathizes with you, your load is lightened - at least a little.

Like my six travel weeks from hell when I experienced seven flight cancellations forcing me to travel all night five times to get to my next destination in time for my 9:00 a.m. workshop start time. Toward the end of these exhausting and very stressful weeks I landed in Toronto around midnight, which was OK since this trip didn’t involve any cancelled flights. I got a cab quickly and gave the driver the address of my hotel. We arrived at the address only to find that it was a convention center with no hotel. “Of course,” I thought. The driver took me to the nearest hotel, but, there were no available rooms. “Of course,” again. The hotel staff called other nearby hotels to find me a room then had their bus driver take me to one with a vacancy. This was excellent service, which helped alleviate some of my exhaustion.

But do you know what really lifted my spirits? As I got onto the bus the driver said to me, “Tough day, huh?” He hit the nail on the head (although “tough month” would have been closer). My exhaustion lifted considerably and my usual optimistic attitude returned. It was miraculous!

Showing empathy toward others can be just that – miraculous, especially for the person on the receiving end of it. In fact, without this human trait relationships would eventually erode.

Encouraging this trait in your children is very important to their ability to coexist. When they can see life through another’s eyes and make a good guess as to what that other person is feeling and convey it to that person, it connects them together. Practiced regularly, empathy keeps us civil, discourages cruelty and allows trust and cooperation between people to build. It makes the world a better place in which to live.

In past weeks I’ve covered the importance of teaching kids empathy along with some ideas on how to teach it to them (past articles at http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com):
·         Empathic kids are good at regulating their own emotions;
·         By helping your kids get their own emotional needs met at home and teaching them how to bounce back from stress, you make it much easier for them to develop a strong sense of empathy towards others;

Here are two additional ways to teach empathy.
Model empathy yourself
Always remember that you are your kids’ number one role model during their most formative years. To anchor empathy in them, model it toward others yourself. Do this when your children are younger before you lose influence over them.

Family systems therapy teaches us that children take on roles based on their parents’ roles. So, if you express empathy toward them rather than being judgmental, they can relax and open up. If you’re more judgmental they’ll likely get defensive with a fight (argue) or a flight (withdraw) reaction to you. To get a different response from them you need to change your response to them first. For example, bullying has become very pervasive. When you and your children witness this in real life or on TV, instead of ignoring it change your role to discussing how that person must feel. Developing empathy for the victim helps them to be less likely to bully anyone themselves.

Help kids identify common ground
A very natural human tendency is to feel the most comfortable with others who look and act like you yourself do. Suspiciousness of differences evolved over the millennia to help our ancestors survive.

The down-side however, is with others who are different from you in age, race, gender, etc., it may be more difficult to give them the benefit of the doubt. When you notice your kids being more judgmental of those who are different, encourage them to identify how they and the other are actually more similar than they realize. My mother used to ask us to guess why another kid might be behaving badly to help us think beyond our initial and judgmental assumptions.

To impact your children’s empathy development parents must look for opportunities to model empathy and to identify commonalities versus differences. The reward will be not only a better world but a better family life, as well.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html.  Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.