Getting Along with Others
As you've learned, kids are strongly influenced by the behaviors of their peers. Don't be afraid of the rest of the world — we all have to live in it. It may seem to you that if you lived in a bucolic city that won “Best City for Raising Kids,” or if you had the money to move to a wealthier, more peaceful neighborhood, or if your kid's teacher would stop labeling him, your problems would be solved. But before you pull up your stakes and join a tribe in the Amazon, consider helping your kids gain the social skills they need to succeed in their current environments with their schools, friends, and larger community.
Empathy is the practice of putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Empathy isn't sympathy — it's not feeling sorry for other people — it's similar to following the golden rule with your feelings, and living with the golden rule in your heart.
To teach kids empathy, the simplest thing you can do is ask them to think about others' feelings. “How do you think Jody felt at the playground today when that other girl pushed her?” and “How do you think your brother felt when he came home from school crying?” are fine ways to teach empathy, even when your child is not the aggressor in the situation. Just calling attention to the plight of others is effective.
Next, ask your child to consider how her actions affect others. If your child does or says something hurtful to another child, ask, “How would you feel if he did that to you?” Chances are, this will be met with silence. You can prompt, “Would you like that?” and if there's more silence or a “Yeah!” add, “I don't think you would.” Enforce any consequences without making the child feel guilty. If your child shows remorse, say, “It looks like you're feeling sad thinking about how that might have made him feel. Would you like to apologize?” It may take several months of teaching empathy to see results, especially if your child is older.
Diffusing anger is a great skill to teach kids who have an anger problem. You may have heard that anger is not a “real” feeling, and that anger is a way of covering up other feelings of being threatened, vulnerable, sad, or having unmet needs. While it's true that anger stems from these feelings, when someone is angry, you must respect their feelings of anger, not negate them.
Counting to ten is a cliché, but it works. Show your child how to count to ten when she is angry and then respond. Your child may need to blow off some steam by riding a skateboard around the block for a little longer than a count of ten; if so, that's fine.
Once your child has learned to effectively diffuse her anger, you can help her voice the feelings behind it using effective communication skills.