A Plan to "Teach" Empathy - Input please?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by DaisyFace, Jun 2, 2011.

  1. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Hello all--

    So we had a session with Ms Ally yesterday - this is the first one the difficult child attended.

    I think it's becoming clear to Ms Ally that we are not the family she typically sees.

    She had a TON of questions for difficult child...tried to get difficult child's point of view on this and that...and quickly discovered that difficult child has no empathy for anyone. Tried to see if difficult child would take responsibility for anything - but no - lots of denial.

    Got some input from DS (and for the SECOND time, MS Ally was told that it only takes ONE person to argue in this house - LOL!)

    difficult child has been told she needs to work on developing empathy. How do you do that?

    And I've been assigned to figure out consequences for every time difficult child acts in anger or acts in an aggressive manner.

    UGH! That's difficult child's whole life!

    And Ms Ally doesn't want me to just punish angry behaviors - I am supposed to find a way to change the root causes of the anger.

    Well, how the heck am I supposed to do that???

    Believe it or not, I think I have a plan:

    I'm thinking rather than try to "punish" angry feelings - I'm going to try and get difficult child to make amends.

    We are going to make a "hurts" jar. Each and every time a member of the family does something hurtful to another - the injured party is going to write it on a card. At the end of each day....we are going to read the cards and anyone who caused a "hurt" will have to formally make amends for that hurt.

    For example: if a card says "So-and-So called me a ********", we will discuss why this is hurtful, and then So-and-So has to make up for that hurt by apologizing and giving a compliment instead.

    I'm not sure if this will actually teach empathy - but I'm hoping it will at least get difficult child into the habit of connecting a negative action with a hurt feeling.

    What do you think?
  2. Steely

    Steely Active Member

    I love this idea Daisy!!!!!
  3. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    Me and my stupid questions again, but...

    How much of the interaction about issues, problems, etc. is verbal??

    I just noticed that you list Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) on her list of diagnosis's, and... Hmmm... we've started to learn that for some of these kids, written is something they comprehend better than verbal. So, you're on the right track to be writing down the hurts, but can you find ways to take the writing farther? Don't just "discuss" the items, maybe write down on the back of the card the key words? and keep the cards around in a "fixed" jar, or a binder, or something, so difficult child or anyone else can look it up again?

    You're also on the right track to make it apply to everyone... you may find that difficult child will be making lots of contributions! She is more aware of what is inbound than what is outbound (been there done that). Treat these seriously as well. Part of how she will learn empathy is to see it in action toward herself - the key word being see. Its happening all around her, but she isn't connecting the dots. "When I do x and you do y, that's empathy... oh..."

    But be warned... don't do this as a 1-week trial. It takes longer than that. We're less formal in our approach, and not specifically working on empathy or at least we didn't call it that... but after 2 months, we're starting to see some positive effects in behavior. Don't take that the wrong way - there were OTHER positive effects before that - signs of self-monitoring/self-awareness, positive contributions to discussions after the fact...

    Go for it - and keep us all posted!

    Maybe you should save all the bits of paper (organized by date of course)... and write a book about how to teach empathy? I don't think there's much "out there" on this subject yet!!
  4. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not




    That is a good question. And you know, I don't even know what to make of the Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) diagnosis any more. I have the paper from when she was tested 8 or 9 years ago - and it clearly states that 'child should be retested in 3 years to re-evaluate findings'...but for the life of me, I can't find anyone willing to re-do that test or refer to someone who will (we now live 800 miles from original testor)...yet the docs around here are confident in telling me the diagnosis no longer applies. Oh, I'm sure she outgrew that problem... Ugh!!!

    So the writing vs verbal issue may be a thing to implement.

    And yes, I think it will be longer than a week...unless there's something here that backfires horribly (always a possibility with difficult children!)
  5. keista

    keista New Member

    First, I think Ms Ally needs to come here and apologize to DD2 since when I read that, I laughed so abruptly and loudly that I startled and scared her.

    Second, I think your plan sounds like a good one. I hope it works. I think it would "teach" empathy, but not necessarily have her feel/experience it.
  6. AnnieO

    AnnieO Shooting from the Hip

    Not supposed to punish angry behaviors?


    So when she gets mad and kicks a dent into the car, is Ms. Ally going to pay the deductible to insurance?

    The writing things down is good. I really, really like that idea.
  7. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Yeah, that was my reaction, too. How in the world???

    I compared it to racist language. I said that I know I could make a rule forbidding racist language in my house - but what in the world am I going to say that will stop someone from actually being racist or having racist opinions?

    I can only change myself. I can force difficult child to go through the motions - but I can't actually force her to change her thinking or feelings.

    And thanks! I hope it does help her to at least understand what everyone is talking about.
  8. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    I may have explained that wrong...

    I'm not supposed to focus on the behaviors, as much as I am supposed to focus on the feelings behind the behaviors. The theory is that if we eliminate the feelings - we will eleiminate the behaviors by default.

    (And yes, I have a problem with that. If you kick a dent in the car, it doesn't matter one whit what your feeling was - it's just wrong and it's not OK!)
  9. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    We've had to learn the hard way.

    You CANNOT fix the behavior, until you fix the CAUSE.

    Medical comparison: A fever is the body's behaviour to any number of problems. You can treat the fever - tylenol etc. - but it doesn't solve the problem. You HAVE to find and fix the problem... infection? disease? something else? It really does matter.

    That doesn't mean you IGNORE the behavior... its a bit of a catch-22. But you will NOT solve it until you get to the bottom of it.

    {hugs} - DF, you're actually making more progress than you think - I see it in the tone of your postings! Keep it up!

    And, for the record, you do NOT, ever, outgrow a Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) diagnosis. You might learn some better coping skills, but probably not. Your language skills might improve, but your auditory filtering probably won't... and THAT can cause all kinds of problems.

    Is there no independent Speech Language Therapist in your area? That person would do the initial re-screen, and then would know what other resources to pursue if necessary - but likely, a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) re-screen would be enough to re-validate Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Ask specifically about "auditory filtering and auditory focus", as these are more recently recognized than when you had your last testing.
  10. hamlet

    hamlet New Member

    For really big hurts, my difficult child has to write an apology. And it can't just say "I'm sorry." Sometimes I dictate to him what to write.

    I have a collection of them.
  11. wintak

    wintak New Member

    difficult child is just like yours, but younger. NOTHING is his fault and he has NO empathy for anything or anyone. The therapist told me he's like at a 2 year old level (or lower) in that dept. She said he'll eventually mature in that dept. But I'm thinking...by reading your post...uhm..maybe not.

    I LOVE your idea of a hurt jar. But, being the devils advocate...what happens if she denies she did it Like if kid A writes that difficult child called her a ***, then at the end of the day what is to prevent difficult child from saying (as my difficult child does) I never said that.? Then what happens?

    But I do love the idea of it.
  12. Malika

    Malika Well-Known Member

    I am wondering whether the discussion part might not be more helpful and educative than the "making amends" part... simply because being hurt is subjective, and for someone to listen and understand why someone was hurt by their actions is useful. The formal making of amends is fine and necessary but perhaps will do less to encourage empathy.
  13. DaisyFace

    DaisyFace Love me...Love me not

    Good question--

    We're also thinking difficult child will probably lie and make up a ton of "hurts" of her own.
  14. AnnieO

    AnnieO Shooting from the Hip

    If she makes up her own... You can still discuss them. Just make sure husband and DS know that there might be some, er, garbage in there, and not to go off... LOL... difficult child will be totally bewildered, because anything she perceives as them trying to get her into trouble will make her blow up - but when she does the same, and no reaction...

    Still working on this with Onyxx & Jett, but...
  15. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    Step - Wow! good point... pre-prep the others so that THEY don't react/over-react. It will help with the whole teaching exercise.

    As far as "lying" goes... probably wise to not go there... don't use that label. Maybe she does perceive wrongs where no wrong was intended (various causes for this); maybe what she hears and understands at the momemt, is nowhere close to what was actually said (which would be related to Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)...); maybe it was actually somebody else, two weeks ago - but the hurt still lingers, and she doesn't remember exactly who or when... Deal with her hurts - imagined, or intentionally done to get others in trouble - the same as everyone else's. The "excessive" add-on stuff dies down pretty fast. The other edges don't go away (misunderstanding etc.) but become more obvious.
  16. ML

    ML Guest

    I really think this is a good idea.
  17. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    DF, I see several things.

    First, Ms Ally does seem to be trying hard to help, within the limitations given to her. When she says to focus on the underlying cause rather than the result, I think she is right. Of course if she does damage then she needs to make restitution, but that is natural consequences. If you are playing with your friends and you suddenly attack one of them, then those friends will not want to play with you. Natural consequences. YOU didn't make the friends go away. She did. Same if she dents the car - someone has to pay for the repairs. She did the damage, she needs to make restitution. But at the same time, whatever made her angry needs to be at least identified, even if she was being unreasonable. And if she WAS being unreasonable, then there could be other problems beneath the surface which also need to be identified.
    I think you need to try this, at least in terms of making notes for MsAlly on what you thought her triggers were in each raging incident. Jusrt make notes. Don't try to fix anything if it is too difficult.

    Next, the empathy jar - brilliant! It may not be as successful as you hope, but if you are seen by Ms Ally to be making a serious effort and coming up with such a really good idea, it sends another clear message that this child is not merely behaving badly because of parental neglect or apathy. It could open more doors towards some genuine help.

    And hey, it MIGHT work. That would be a bonus.

  18. pepperidge

    pepperidge New Member

    My son in his program had a fairly scripted communication statements he had to practice. something along the lines of " I hear that you are angry. You are angry because I kicked you. It makes you angry when I kick you because it hurts you. My hope for me is that I can learn not to kick you. My hope for you is that you will help me...." Something like that. The point being part of empathy is learning to identify what others are feeling and what gives rise to those feelings. I think you might want to have some kind of script that each person can follow so that the exercise doesn't degenerate into more name-calling. Perhaps you might want to have a happy jar too. "It made be feel really good when you helped me do the dishes tonight...... "

    good luck! I suppose that there are some people who will never have empathy, but maybe many of our kids are so overwhelmed by their strong feelings and so ashamed of the chaos they create--or so unable to read social cues, that it is a real challenge to develop or exhibit empathy....
  19. TerryJ2

    TerryJ2 Well-Known Member

    Interesting! Let us know how it works! Sounds like a lot of work, but isn't everything with-these kids?
    And in your case, I think it will pay off because at least you will have some discussion points.
  20. Shari

    Shari IsItFridayYet?

    I think its a great idea.

    As for just going thru the motions vs truly learning empathy, well....they say it takes 21 days of repetition to form a "new" habit. If it works, and that's all it ever is, well, that's better than nothing. If somewhere along the way, a few tidbits of true empathy sink in, well, even better.

    Some people learn social skills simply to fit within societal norms. While give and take conversation for you and I is rewarding, for someone else, it may never be something they really enjoy. Yet in order to "fit in", its a skill that most folks really do need to know.

    I can't wait to hear how this goes. I'm sure it will take some tweaking, but it just might be the start of brilliance!