A Superpower You Can Give Your Kids

Child superhero portrait

Last night, or early this morning, whatever time you call 3am I read an article.

You can read it here:  “According to Harvard Psychologists: Parents Who Raise Good Kids Do These 5 Things.”  It was in Curious Mind Magazine online.

You should read the whole article. It goes into detail about each of the 5 Things and gives practical application tips. It’s very good.

I was already thinking about some of the things mentioned because my son just turned 30 yesterday and Mother’s Day is tomorrow and I was wondering if I had been successful in my attempt at being his mother.

Not only that but recently I had interaction with an older adult and her behavior was very curious to me. I think I’m a pretty good communicator and listener but we were hitting a brick wall. We could just not understand each other. After some reflection, and serious self-examination to determine if I was the problem, I contacted a mutual friend to help. She said to me something very poignant, “She does not have the ability to put herself in someone else’s shoes so therefore she can’t be empathetic.”

In my experience as a person, a mother and a teacher of 17 years, being empathetic is a superpower everyone can have.

Empathy is the ability to “understand and share the feelings of others.” It’s different from sympathy. Sympathy is “having pity for someone, feeling compassion for their hardships. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

This superpower has world-rocking implications.

To be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes means that you have to take the time to get to know the person. You have to listen and hear them. You have to try to understand their world and experience.

When you try to understand from another point of view you have to acknowledge that you are not the center of the universe and people have different experiences. Just because you experience and interpret something one way doesn’t mean that everyone has the same experience.

I’ll give you a quick example from my life: My husband will sometimes send me to Home Depot for something. Before I go, I have him explain to me what he is doing and why he has to have that particular thing. Sometimes he gets frustrated and says, “Just go get the thing, it’s not a big deal.” However, I try to make him understand that when I – as a woman – go into Home Depot I very often (not always) get treated as if I’m stupid and ignorant of the world of hardware and tools. I often get approached by a gentleman with an annoyed attitude as if he is forced to allow the woman into the all-boys club. I can usually brush him off and get on with my shopping but sometimes I literally get chased down by an employee who can’t possibly believe that a woman knows what she needs and where to find it. When he catches up to me I inevitably get the barrage of questions. “What are you doing?” “Are you sure you want THAT part?” I can either take on the persona of the dumb wife and tell him that my husband sent me which opens up the world of “your husband doesn’t know what he needs, let me tell you what he needs” which makes me defensive. Or I take on the persona of ignorant woman which opens up the world of “let me help you little darlin'” and I really hate the condescension. Or I can just be rude and tell him to get off my back. It’s really too much to go through just to get a bolt.

My point, through my Home Depot rant, is that my husband and I have very different Home Depot experiences. And sometimes he forgets that. Going to Home Depot is a bigger deal for me than him.

Sometimes we forget that our husbands, wives, children and friends are having very different experiences than we are. When we feel impatient or irritated we might need to take a minute listen and hear and try to put ourselves in their shoes.

To put yourself in someone else’s shoes means that you have to get out of your own self for a moment. You have to be self-less for a while.

That is hard for everyone. But incredibly important.

During my teaching career I saw that this superpower was lacking in so many children. It really was the very rare student who could be empathetic. Most kids want it now and their way! And when that can’t happen it causes conflict.

When a child can put themselves in another person’s shoes and understand how it could be best, more loving, or more important to give up their way and allow another person to have it their way – Wow! So powerful! Conflict resolved! Love shown! The world is a better place!

Teaching your child to be okay with waiting, sharing and taking turns is the first step in teaching them to be empathetic. We all have to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around us and our desires and needs. Sometimes others have to be put before us. Sometimes we have to wait.

Unfortunately we also have to learn to do without. That’s life. I can’t tell you how kind and loving you will be to your child if you allow them to learn this lesson early. Better to learn early that they can’t always get what they want than later in life when they’re angry and hurt and arguing with their spouse because they want a new car and house but they just can’t afford it. And instead of “getting it” they blame the spouse for not loving them. (True story.)

However, you have to be patient with your child’s development. Younger kids are naturally selfish and when they are denied they will be upset. They will cry. They will pitch a fit. Stand your ground. Don’t give in. Even though they might be too young to understand why they can’t get what they want, they are learning that they can survive not getting what they want.

And as your child gets older and can understand you can then begin to explain WHY they have to wait or share or do without. This helps them put themselves into another person’s shoes.

They can begin by putting themselves in your shoes, their sibling’s shoes, their classmate’s shoes. But you have to take the time to talk to them about it. You have to explain and during this time you’re impressing upon them your values. You are impressing upon them the importance of love, compassion, kindness and all those values you hold important. (I hate to tell you but as a teacher, it’s very clear what values are important to the parents by watching a student interact with others. Kids learn first and mimic first what they see their parents do. “Do as I say, not as I do” does NOT work.)

But when your child develops empathy it gives them the power to be successful in school, at home, in all of their relationships.

When a child can think about his teacher might feel when he interrupts the class during instruction – powerful! Conflict solved! Relationship strengthened! Love shown!

When a child can share her lunch with a classmate who has none – Boom! Relationship strengthened! Love shown! The world’s a better place!

As an adult when a person can listen and try to understand and be giving to those different than they are – they make better managers, business owners, doctors, teachers, ministers and just all around better people.

It also helps them get through the difficult times in life. It’s not so shocking to them when as adults they have to scrimp, save, do without. Or when accident or injury happens they can rise to the challenge. They have seen and can perhaps understand the difficulty of others and learn from other’s victories and defeats. They learn resilience – a vital thing to learn! They learn that difficulty is not the end of the world – challenge accepted – this too shall pass and better times are coming.

Empathy – a superpower to give your kids.






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