Thinking of Others While Caring for Ourselves…and How We Can Teach The Next Generation!

I recently read an article by Dr. Robin Stern of Yale University. She discussed the “trap” that we can fall in while displaying empathy for others. We learn and teach our kids to think of others and see what it is like to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. However, we also want to make sure we stay in tuned with how we are feeling inside. So how do we find a balance? 

1. We have to know and understand our own emotions before we can understand someone else’s feelings. Simply asking ourselves or a child “What emotion are you feeling?” can allow one to take an introspective view of their emotions. Once someone has a better understanding of their own feelings, it will be easier to acknowledge the feelings of others.

2. Children look to adults to lead them with how to handle certain situations. Essentially they need us to lead by example. As the authority figures (parent, older sibling, teacher, etc) in their lives, we can do this by practicing self-care and empathy in our own lives. Here are some examples:
a. Self-Care: When is the last time you did something for yourself and/or by yourself? If you are still thinking, it is has been too long! Having children puts tremendous amounts of constraint on our time, but that is not an excuse to keep from prioritizing your own needs. Anything from a spa day, going fishing, or a date night can do wonders! This will then allow you to show your child how to practice self-care by stating "You know how Mommy/Daddy has some alone time every week? Let's see when we can build in some alone time in your schedule!" 
b. Empathy: We can't expect kids to show empathy if we are not willing to do it ourselves. Being able to see a situation from someone else's perspective can make all the difference in how you respond. So the next time you are tempted to snap at the cashier at the grocery store, or yell at the slow driver on the freeway, remind yourself that kids are looking at you to see how you handle yourself and care for the needs of others!
3. Creating a safe environment for children to feel comfortable coming to you to talk is really important. The home and school environments are training grounds for the real world. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your child about creating balance in their life. If your child were to come home to vent about a teacher or peer, it is best to acknowledge their feelings ("I can see that you are upset.") followed by asking a question that will broaden their view ("Can you think of anything that may be going on in their life that would be causing this person to act this way towards you?"). Allowing children to express their emotions while showing them how to be mindful of others, creates a lifestyle of balance as they become more independent.

Hopefully these tips help in creating balance in your life as well as the little ones that you make impressions on!

Continuing to break the stigma,

Elise Banks
Miss International 2015


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