Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. Juliano, Marla Darwin, Monica Eleazar-Manzano, Rossana Unson, and Ronna Capili-Bonifacio tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.
Browsing through children’s titles in a bookstore, my daughter asked about every cover her chubby hands got a hold of. In between checking phone messages and conversing with hubby, I answered as patiently as I could, albeit distracted. She picked up a National Geographic Kids book with a photo of the Titanic sinking in the Atlantic.
“What happened here mommy?”
“That’s the Titanic. It’s a cruise ship. Remember we talked about that kind of ship? It sunk a long time ago.”
“It hit an iceberg, honey.”
“What happened to the people?”
Without much thought, I blurted out, “They died.”
She stared at the cover for a few seconds before grabbing my legs and burying her face in between them.
“What’s wrong, sweetie? What happened?”
And she let out a heavy, deep cry. I knelt to check if she was physically hurt and I asked her again.
“Why did they die momma? Where did they go? Did they go to heaven? What happened to the kids? Did they get separated from their parents?” She tried her best to ask in between heaving. People were now staring at us, but I just focused on her and tried to think of the best answer I could give her. “Of course they did. Now stop crying here, people are staring,” my husband butted in. I gave him the coldest stare I could manage and he understood to back off for a bit. I led little bub to a quiet corner and sat on the carpet to cuddle her close.
“You know what? I appreciate your reaction right now. Crying for other people is a good thing,” I slowly and softly said. She calmed down instantly with a quizzical look.
“Because you understand how bad they may have felt. That will make you a good helper because you want others not to feel bad. And we all need helpers, right?”
She nodded sadly. “You know what? Let’s find more ways to help others, okay? Don’t cry na, okay? We’ll help those in need, I promise.”
And right there, I felt both foolish and enlightened. How could I let something as basic as enforcing empathy slip through my fingers? In little bub’s four years of existence, empathy and sensitivity to other people’s feelings were something I relegated teaching on the background, as a sub product of, say, teaching proper social skills. What became more important are the learnings to help her get ahead in school and in some degree, help her stand out from peers her age. Ask her about types of rocks and minerals, what the biggest spider is called, or what super earth means and she answers them without much thought. Trivia, really. Nothing more than that.
But here we are, without much coaxing on my end, she had the need to express this raw, alien emotion. And this was my opportunity to work with it and hone it. In a world where people are growing detached through means that are supposed to make life easier; where people cry for freedom of speech just to be heard, but have no room in their lives to understand others and the freedoms they stand for; when everyone has an opinion about everything; we’ve built virtual walls around ourselves and select only the beneficial to enter our tiny worlds. Our kids are not any different. We sugar coat and paint things rosy to fit them into the ideal. And I don’t blame parents from doing so. The world, and the information about it we’re allowed to access, all seems so f*cked up right now, why would you want to ruin a person’s perfect childhood?
And yet, we’re faced with unreasonable, insensitive people every day. We can choose to change that, I can choose to raise my daughter to deter that.
I googled “how to teach kids empathy” and a long list of research-backed studies filled my computer screen. Most revolved around the following pointers:
• Praise empathetic behavior.
• Talk about her, yours, and others’ feelings and label them.
• Talk about ways to resolve conflicts. Show her how you resolve your own conflicts.
• Don’t use anger to discipline your child.
• Give your child chores and let her help around.
• Get into charitable activities.
• Respect those that seem different than you and show that to your child.
As much as I want her to grow to be intellectual, I can see now that shaping her emotional quotient will be much more substantial for her and the community she’ll thrive in. Empathy is a lifelong skill that will open doors of communication, love, and respect in her life. It’s a means to forge better relationship and give her higher level of happiness and good mental health. It’s a means for positive and healthy progress. And with how the world appears at the moment, we are in dire need of that.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Marian Hukom
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