Create a Happy and Healthy Summer: Sun + Warmth + Free Time + Family Fun = Summer!

By Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor, and parent

“Play is a powerful way to keep children’s brains healthy, emotions happy, and muscles strong.”

As a parent, I always look for ways to keep summer relaxed and entertaining. I relish the time with my children, and I search for ways to make everyday fun, engaging, and full of play.  Play is a powerful way to keep children’s brains healthy, their emotions happy and their muscles strong. Healthy Learning Paths wants to share a list of 5 ideas for everyday play that engage children’s brains and bodies. Together we can keep children happy and healthy!

  • Cook together! Give your child a small task to do to help prepare a meal. He can work with the batter, knead the dough, help put sandwiches together, set fruit on the table, or place plates out for all family members. You can even see if your child has an idea for a food to eat. Including children when shopping for and preparing meals helps them try new foods and learn what is healthy for their bodies. This time together also gives family members opportunities to communicate and bond.
  • Hop, skip and jump! And run and climb, and twirl, and swing and slide. Any outdoor exercise is good for your child’s body and mind! Exercise makes her brain feel healthy and happy by helping the brain balance all of its chemicals. Exercise also helps children develop big motor coordination, balance, and muscle strength all over the body. Exercise helps reduce stress and worries and maintain healthy sleep, even with sunnier days.
  • Find an outside canvas! In summer, our sidewalks and driveways become our canvas. Your child can use sidewalk chalk or water with a rag or paintbrush to sketch a rocket ship as it lands on the moon, draw a hopscotch game, write numbers or letters, experiment with colors, or draw anything from his imagination. All children love to create and imagine and finding a big canvas outside helps bring these ideas to life. Drawing helps children develop arm and wrist stabilization, which is important for writing and learning in school.
  • Entertain when it rains. When the rain is coming down it can be hard to think of activities to keep child busy. Pull out a muffin tin and ask her to help sort different objects, like different shaped noodles, various beans, buttons, and coins. Put flour on a cookie sheet and let her draw. Start a rainy day puzzle that you revisit each rainy moment. Find a deck of cards and play “Match my Number” or “Match my Shape”. Let your child create an inside obstacle course (crawl under the chair, climb over the couch, move like a snake under the table, hop over the pillows). Play Hide and Seek. Build a fort with pillows and blankets. Or curl up with your child’s book choice and read the story and talk about the pictures in the books.
  • Don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers. Sometimes as parents, we are so busy trying to keep our children moving and having fun that we forget about ourselves. Remember to take your own moments to breathe, stretch, exercise, and relax. As parents, we are much more able to spend quality time with our children when we are relaxed and balanced too. Also, children learn how to create balance in their lives when they see parents create it in theirs.

Everyday activities we do with our children help us bond and connect today and form the memories we will cherish and smile about in the future. We hope you have a happy and healthy summer full of memories in the making!

Kindness, Pass It On

by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Pyschologist, Healthy Learning Paths’
Instructor, and scholar of kindness

GWC_6028“The best portion of a man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” ~William Wordsworth

We are part of multiple communities – small ones like our family and our neighborhoods and large ones like our country and even our world.  We may learn of events that occur in any of those communities that sadden us or frustrate us, and when we hear of these events, we can encourage compassion and caring through our everyday actions.  We can choose to demonstrate kindness to others and to model to the youth in our communities that kindness and compassion connects us all.  The act of receiving and giving kindness helps us feel like a needed part of our communities and joins us as humans.

Showing and demonstrating kindness not only fulfills needs for someone else but it fulfills needs within us.  When we help another person or being, we experience strong feelings of satisfaction, pride, and contentment.  Our own perception of happiness increases.  Experiencing these emotions helps us feel that we are important within our communities and that we are needed and valued by others.

How do we encourage kindness in our children?

  • Model it: When with your children, model kindness and humor in your interactions with them and when you are interacting with other members of the community. Ask others how they are feeling and listen to their responses.  Extend a helping hand when someone needs it.  Afterward, talk about how everyone needs help now and then, and it is important to provide the help when you can.  That helping makes the heart of a community.
  • Praise it: When you observe your child extend kindness and compassion to another, reflect on it and state your pride in his behavior. Ask if he feels the positive emotions like pride, satisfaction, contentment, and happiness.  Reinforce that by showing kindness to another your child is a necessary member of your community.  It takes helpers to make a community thrive.
  • Mention it: When you are watching a movie or reading a book with your child, mention when a character engages in caring acts or chooses kind words to talk with another. Ask your child when she has noticed others using the same type of kind behavior and language.
  • Live it: Search out experiences that will let you share kindness with others. These experiences may be volunteering at a community center, a nature preserve, an animal shelter, a phone hotline, or a housing shelter.  When we live it, we can sincerely feel the positive emotions that we receive.  We can speak about and share the experience, which in turn encourages others to participate, allowing kindness to multiply through the community.

By extending kindness and care to others, we can create connections in our communities for our children, others and ourselves.  These connections remind us that we are human, and we need each other to live.  Our individual acts of kindness and compassion may not be remembered, but these acts create the relationships.

Speak Up!

By Virginia Hrywnak, DO, Deputy Executive Director of Healthy Learning Paths, family physician, and imperfect parent of 2 school- aged daughters

2013FlapjackFundraiser “I speak not for myself but for those without voice…those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of  opportunity, their right to be educated.”
                          Malala Yousafzai

“There is a difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak,”  explains Simon Sinek.  How can we raise kids that speak up for others?  Kids who are kind, compassionate, and caring?  Research shows that kids learn more from the ACTIONS of their parents than their WORDS.

Here are some scenarios to think about –

  1. When your kids are playing in a group sporting event are the adults emphasizing winning more than having fun, being active and showing good sportsmanship?
  2. At school, do you want your kids to speak up and tell a trusted adult when a classmate is showing signs of sadness, seems down, or is acting different than usual?
  3. Is any bullying tolerated, allowed, or ignored?  Are kids given the impression that they have to figure it out on their own?

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, who runs the Making Caring Common project found surprising results in a new study released by the group. “About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others.  The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that, ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.’”  Disturbing stats right?  So where do we start?  What can we as parents, educators, and members of our community do?

Here are some tips:

  1. Get started.  Kids are never too young to learn kindness, and it’s never too late to start.  Even toddlers can be taught to be gentle with toys, pets, and others.
  1. Keep trying.  Practice. Practice.  Practice.  Most kids need lots of positive support, using examples and frequent “real life” reminders to fully grasp a concept.
  1. Everywhere, every time.  Don’t let kids spit in your face, slap you, or grab your hair. Not ever.  Gently, but firmly tell them they may not continue with the behavior.  Be consistent.  Don’t laugh at such behavior because that sends a mixed and confusing message.
  1. Kindness is its own reward.  Don’t reward kids for being kind. When kids think they’re only being kind for a reward, it takes away the deeper meaning of the act.
  1. Role play.  Don’t assume.  When kids can’t grasp why what they did was mean, ask them how they would feel in the other person’s shoes. This can help them be less likely to hurt others in the future.
  1. Build others up.  Don’t focus on building your child’s ego.  Their desires, needs, and wants should not always come before others’. Discuss feelings.
  1. Keep it real.  Don’t dismiss or minimize a negative emotion, such as: “It’s not that bad,” or “You’re fine.”  Never punish negative feelings. This can be tough. Allow your child to express negative feelings and then work through them together.  As your child understands her/his own feelings, she/he will become more sympathetic and more empathetic.
  1. Talk about it.  Discuss the feelings of others in everyday conversations.  Use examples from your day.  Talk about how events are associated with specific emotions.  For example: “Poor children who don’t have food feel happy to receive food.”
  1. Even when it’s a special day or a regular day,  pay attention to your actions and to the lessons you are teaching.  When you’re driving and stuck in traffic, or standing in a long line, kids are watching.  Even on their birthdays, vacations, weekends, and holidays, make sure kids know it’s still important to be kind.
  1. Kindness starts at home.  You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Don’t expect grandparents, teachers, counselors, or babysitters to teach your children to be kind.  Find a way to serve and give as a family.  Donate your time, toys, books, or small amounts of money to needy children.  Never force it, but encourage participation.  Your child will learn so much from your example.  It’s your job; and it’s a gift.

I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite children’s book authors- Jamie Lee Curtis “Is There Really a Human Race?” book:

“So, take what’s inside you and make big, bold choices.  And for those who can’t speak for themselves, use bold voices.  And make friends and love well, bring art to this place.  And make the world better for the whole human race.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feelings Are Fantastic!

By Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Instructor for Healthy Learning Paths

GWC_5964 Pride.  Accomplishment.  New  Found Confidence.  Satisfaction.  Contentment.

Wow! What a list of fantastic feelings!  While busily stocking the food lines at the Healthy Learning Paths’ RACE4Kids’ Health 5k in April, I overheard families and children say that they felt these strong, positive feelings.  How incredible!  They ran or walked the race and felt a sense of accomplishment and pride from their participation and hard work.  Hearing these words made me realize how important our vocabulary is for these and other feelings.

Feelings are fantastic!  They help us communicate what we feel, recognize what others feel, demonstrate empathy, and engage in meaningful connection with each other.  Learning many words to describe feelings is important to foster our ability to accurately label our changing feelings and ask for help to manage intense feelings successfully.  Being able to label personal feelings helps us all know what we need to regulate intense emotions or respond to feedback we receive from others.  Being able to label the feelings of others helps us all recognize how we can share in the emotional experiences of others, show empathy and offer compassion, or begin to engage in social problem solving.

How can we build feelings vocabulary for our children?

  • Feelings are fun! Label them when you feel them, use multiple words for them.  Instead of happy, say “I am ecstatic!”  Instead of sad, say, “I’m blue.”
  • Draw faces showing different feelings on a paper together with your child. She can help decide how the mouth should be shaped and the eyes and eyebrows should be formed.  Use your own faces as models for these drawings.  Use these drawings each day to help describe how members of the family feel in the morning or at night.  Add words to the faces to describe the faces when you use them to expand your child’s vocabulary.
  • Play “Guess my Emotion” where each member of the family chooses an emotion to act out to others so they can guess the emotion based on body and face appearances.
  • At the library, choose picture books of faces with different emotions and talk about how you know what the character is feeling from the picture.
  • Talk about how you can tell your child is feeling based on how her face and body look. Is she slouching with a frown?  Is she standing straight, jumping up and down and laughing?  Describe these face and body appearances to help her connect the words to the feelings.
  • When you feel a strong feeling, say, “I feel…” It is helpful to learn how to say, “I feel…” to help communicate strong and intense feelings to ask for help, to ask someone to share in experiences or to begin communicating to solve a problem.
  • Reinforce when your child labels her own emotions. You can even say, “Now I know what you need and how I can help.”  It is hard sometimes to say what we feel, especially when we feel strong, uncomfortable emotions.  Reinforcing and complimenting your child when she says her feelings will help her learn that stating them is positive and can help her manage intense emotions.
  • Have fun with coming up with words to describe emotions. Brainstorm together, try out different words together, add to your lists together.

It is fantastic to have many feelings.  Feelings are present and changing all the time, whether it is after your family completes a 5K or just getting ready to begin the day.  Helping your child develop understanding of them is a great way to connect and begin to talk about all feelings, pleasant and uncomfortable. Experiencing and learning about feelings together can be fun!

Want to learn more?  Try these resources:

Books on feeling vocabulary:
Understanding Myself (feelings children have), by Mary C. Lamia
The Way I Feel, by Janan Cain
The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr
Today I Feel Silly: and Other Moods that Make My Day, by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell

Web resource for feeling faces:
http://www.freeprintablebehaviorcharts.com/feeling_charts.htm
#How_Do_I_Feel_Today_Week

 

 

Catch Me in the Act: The Power of Play

By Virginia Hrywnak, DO- Family physician, Deputy Executive Director of Healthy Learning Paths, and imperfect parent of 2 school-aged daughters

iStock_000003588610Medium“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.”  Diane Ackerman, Contemporary American author

Imagine kids having unstructured, active, free play outside.  What images do you see?  Compare those images to what you envision after reading these words- indoors, screen time, alone, sitting.  Pretty different images, right?  One of our Healthy Learning Paths’ classes is “Let’s Play”- the kids love learning about how movement helps them have healthy brains, hearts, muscles, and even happy attitudes.  We talk about how choosing active play is a “superpower” that kids have to be healthy.

At one of our parent programs, called “Brain Moves”, we talk about how and why movement and unstructured play has been shown to help kids learn better in school and be healthier physically, emotionally and socially.  It’s amazing how fun the “motor lab” portion of the program is.  It is inspiring to see a group of preschoolers and their parents taking turns pretending to “ice skate” using simple paper plates, or play “red light, green light” while pretending to be different zoo animals.

Trying to add in more active play time can be challenging with our fast-paced, often hectic, lives.  Adults may also feel hesitant or even uncomfortable with the idea of “unstructured play.”  Let your child take the lead. You will be amazed at how imaginative and fun the playtime becomes!

Here are some ideas to add more active play to your family’s day:

  1. Let kids take turns “being the DJ” and dance to a song or two. Silly dance moves are the best!
  2. Get outside and play those “old-fashioned” games you enjoyed as a kid- like tag, “red light- green light”, hopscotch, or capture-the-flag.
  3. Add a 10-15 minute walk after dinner to your daily routine, try to increase to 30 minutes over time.
  4. Try paper-plate “ice –skate” inexpensive, fun, and easy!
  5. Play a “follow- the-leader” style obstacle course- jump over the curb, run up the steps, hop on one leg around the mailbox. Take turns being the “leader.”
  6. Head over to the school playground after school hours and play!
  7. Make a straight line with painters tape (inside) or chalk (outside) and use it as a balance beam.
  8. Play laundry bin bean-bag toss. Don’t have bean-bags?  Use a rolled up pair of socks!
  9. Put pillows on the floor and pretend they are a pirate ship or hot lava or…?
  10. Play zoo animal “hide and seek”- slither like a snake to home-base or sprint like a cheetah!

“When children pretend, they’re using their imaginations to move beyond the bounds of reality.  A stick can be a magic wand.  A sock can be a puppet.  A small child can be a superhero.”

Fred Rogers, American children’s television host, 1928–2003

 

Learn the Power to Be Cool: Help Children Manage Stress

by Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist, Healthy Learning Paths’ Instructor

iStock_000010947648Medium

   

STRESS

Sometimes it’s little, “I can’t tie my shoe.”

 

Sometimes it’s big, “I’m lonely and left-out.  I feel like I don’t belong.”

 

Friendships, playtime, sports, lessons, clubs, school, homework – and that’s just a small list of everyday activities and stresses that our children experience.  As a mother, I observe my children handle these daily experiences, and both enjoy and feel stress from them.  One of our roles as parents and caregivers is to support our children in learning how to manage stress when something does not go their way, when they feel tired, or when they are trying something new.

Here are some ideas to help children learn the power to be cool and manage stress in a healthy way:

  • Help protect children’s sleep and bedtime.  When children are rested, they are more able to use skills to handle stressors in a healthy way, and small stresses are less likely to cause a big reaction.
  • Help children eat a healthy diet.  When children have a diet balanced with fresh vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins, they are better able to choose healthy ways to cope with stress.
  • Make time for physical activity together.  Physical activity helps both children and adults stay cool and calm under pressure.  When the weather is good, take a walk, play basketball, play catch, jump rope, take a bike ride together.  In the winter and during bad weather, make an inside obstacle course, build a fort with pillows, play follow the leader together.
  • Spend time just listening to children.  Use mealtime, bedtime, and any other moments together to connect.  Listening to children helps them feel heard and connected to their family and other caregivers.  This builds a strong foundation for lasting, trusting relationships.
  • Demonstrate your own positive self-care.  Children are sensitive to the stress of their parents and other caregivers.
    1. Model talking about your emotions using healthy emotional vocabulary.  This helps everyone be aware of feelings and empowers kids with words to express their emotions.  Kids will learn how emotions impact everyone’s day.
    2. Show children how to care for yourself during stressful times.  They will learn from you!  Model breathing, stretching, talking about emotions and using healthy strategies, “I am worried about the job interview I have.  I will prepare by getting my materials together.  I also need to make sure to breathe and stretch to bring my worries down.  Maybe we can go for a walk together, too.”

Catch Me In The Act: Why I Eat Avocados and You Should Too

Why are healthy fats important?
Healthy fats keep the brain alert to learn and focus.
Healthy fats keep the heart strong and protect the heart from disease.
Healthy fats help keep a happy attitude for mental health.

What are some foods with healthy fats?

How can I eat more foods with healthy fats?

  • Use mashed avocados in place of mayonnaise.
  • Use avocados in salads and for snacks.
  • Eat nuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds for snacks.
  • Add nuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds to salads and vegetables.
  • Use olive oil for cooking and salad dressings.
  • Eat wild caught fish such as salmon.
  • Add olives to salads, vegetables, or snacks.

Easy Salad Dressing
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch of ground black pepper
Mix  and store in refrigerator.  This dressing can also be used as a marinade for chicken, fish, or grilled vegetables.  Bon Appétit!

By Chris Marchioni, MD, a doc on a mission to teach kids Sthealthy, the Power to Stay Healthy

 

Screen Time: How Much Is Too Much?

By Virginia Hrywnak, DO- Deputy Executive Director of Healthy Learning Paths, imperfect parent of 2 school-aged daughters, family physician, avid reader, and hiker.

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How much is too much screen time?       It depends on the age of your child,         but in general, it’s up to us as parents     to limit screen time for our kids.               Cautionary tales of technology                 addiction abound ranging from the 4     year old British girl that needed               therapy for her iPad addiction to             stories of teens who spend most of the   day and night playing video games.

In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum offers this simple, but powerful advice that reminds us about life lessons beyond the screen.

These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

1.  Share everything.
2.  Play fair.
3.  Don’t hit people.
4.  Put things back where you found them.
5.  CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6.  Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7.  Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8.  Wash your hands before you eat.
9.  Flush.
10.  Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11.  Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
12.  Take a nap every afternoon.
13.  When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14.  Be aware of wonder.  Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15.  Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.  So do we.
16.  And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Look around at any doctor’s office, store, or restaurant and most kids and adults are on smartphones or tablets.  Only three out of ten kids ages 8 to 18 say that their parents set limits on their media use and stick to them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  The increased use of technology by children is having a startling effect on their social skills and social emotional development.  Data from a Common Sense research study in 2012 shows the majority of teachers feel increased screen time has negatively impacted their student’s attention spans, writing skills, and homework completion.  So what’s a parent to do?

Here’s a good place to start:

1.  Encourage 60 minutes or more of active play, ideally outdoors, every day.

2.  Talk with your kids about empathy, making friends, and caring for others- it’s a life skill that needs to be taught.  And it won’t be taught on a phone, tablet, computer, or TV.

3.  Encourage your kids to be creative with music, art, dance, and movement. These types of activities have been shown to help brain development.  Not crafty?  That’s ok- keep it simple and fun!

4.  Unplug as a family. Make meal time unplugged, parents included, and no screen time in the 1-2 hours before bed.  Limit screen time for kids.  Don’t hand them your phone.

5.  Make it a house rule- No screens in the bedrooms.

6.  Banish the electronic babysitter.  Don’t let you or your kids zone out on screen time when you could be having face to face talking, listening, laughing, and just hanging out time.

We’d love to hear from you!  Share your thoughts, perspective, and insight in the comments section.

 

 

 

2014 Top 12 Things We Love about Healthy Learning Paths

From the Healthy Learning Paths’ Staff

IMG_5989 

You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.   Dr. Seuss

 

 

12.  We start lessons with story time.  Some are well known, popular children’s books and some much less well known.  My favorite part of story time is when all the kids are staring at me with RAPT- attention, following every word.

11.  Watching a group of kindergartners be SO engaged when using Glo-Germ lotion and a black light learning about the importance of handwashing

10.  Doing the chicken dance with 20+ preschoolers at the end of our Celebrate Celery lesson about the benefits of eating high fiber foods

9.  Hearing the kids share ideas about brushing their teeth and how to avoid getting cavities

8.  Overhearing a five year old talk with his friend about the High Five for Sleep bedtime routine and how sleep helps his brain grow

7.  Being recognized at the local rec center pool by one of the preschoolers and her family and the mom thanking me because they’ve learned a lot from the lessons

6.  Watching young kids share, take turns, and congratulate each other after doing “paper plate ice-skating”

5.  Being called by a mom who is surprised that her preschooler knows how to find how much sugar is in cereal

4.  Having a mom share that her son stopped a bully because of what he learned about Friends Who Care

3.  Seeing the hundreds of people have a great time running the Frank Shorter RACE4Kids’ Health 5K in the snow last April and enjoying the 70+ vendors at the EXPO (Spoiler alert- sign up for the April 12, 2015 RACE today!)

2.  When you enter the room, kids yell, “Yay, it’s a Healthy Learning Paths’ day!”

1.  Working with all the generous volunteers, terrific teachers, and passionate parents who help kids realize that they have the power to make healthy choices!

Thank you for a terrific 2014!  We wish you a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

 

The Superpower of Empathy: The Key to Compassion and Meaningful Connection

By Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist,
Healthy Learning Paths Instructor, shayna@reachinghighereducation.com

I was struck while preparing for a recent parent education program.  Parents were sincerely connecting and asking about each other’s family and children.  I saw care in faces, connection through listening and eye contact, and compassion through physical gestures.  As I looked at the group, I hesitated several moments to gather their attention because I saw they were engaging in an important experience with each other, something we all feel and something we all need.  Empathy.

Sometimes I think of empathy as a superpower because of the power it has to encourage cooperation, compassion, and the best in people.  Empathy is part of being human and fosters our ability to play, work and problem solve together because it helps us understand others’ emotions, thoughts and experiences – positive and negative.  It helps us engage meaningfully with another person and for the benefit of another person.  It helps us promote the wellness of another when they are feeling disconnected, uncared for or lost.  As humans, we need connection, caring and compassion.  Empathy gives us the ability to build these connections and form a link to compassion and belonging.

Children look to parents and adults around them to learn how to connect with others and to express care, compassion and emotions.  Empathy is learned through modeling, reinforcement and sincere bonding.  We must remember to model and teach empathy in our fast paced world so our children know how to significantly connect and support one another, to let each other know that we all matter, we all are needed.  We must nurture the superpower of empathy to foster children’s ability to treat others kindly, provide meaningful help, solve problems by balancing other’s needs, and be perceived as a friend and compassionate leader.  Empathy is a superpower that fosters our children’s health, happiness and connections with others.

Empathy preserves our personal relationships to others and enables us to understand others’ experiences and adjust our interactions to promote and protect their wellbeing.  We have to focus on building empathy in our society to preserve our feelings of meaningful belonging and personal compassion and engagement.  My experience at the parent presentation helped me remember how we use the superpower of empathy in everyday life and how we need it and must reserve time to teach our children its meaning and power.  Our world moves quickly, and building that superpower of empathy helps our children know they matter, we need them, and in turn they will share that human connection with others they touch now and in the future.

Tips for modeling empathy and discussing events empathetically with your child:

When your child needs empathy:

  • Put all other tasks and activities aside, take time for a full connection
  • Move to your child’s eye level and make eye contact
  • Show how to truly listen by engaging 100% with your child
  • Allow your face to show and echo the emotions of your child
  • Communicate your child’s feelings back, “Sounds like you feel…”
  • Let them know your emotions while you are listening, “I feel so sad that you had that happen.”
  • Express joy or excitement for positive events, “I see you feel joyful! I am pleased for you!”
  • Provide the physical connection your child needs

When your child observes you empathizing with another individual:

  • Never share more than what your child is ready to hear or needs to hear, but share the connection and human emotions experienced
  • Discuss the emotions of the other person and how those emotions made you feel
  • Make statements of, “That is so difficult for them. I feel for their experiences.”
  • Demonstrate when you share the joy or excitement of another too, “I am so pleased that this event is happening for them. I feel the happiness too!”

When you observe your child empathizing with another individual:

  • Discuss the connection and compassion you observed
  • State, “I am proud of you for connecting.”
  • Discuss how your child may experience big emotions from connecting with another person, and that this means they are growing up into a caring person, reinforce the positives of having these feelings
  • Discuss that these feelings are normal and make your child a caring and strong friend
  • Reinforce that the other person appreciated the connection and it was helpful

Empathy is a superpower that each of us can give and receive.