THE ART OF EMPATHY

Did you know there was an Empathy Day? Yes, there’s a day for it. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the feelings of others, both human and animal. It’s also a great opportunity to begin practicing empathy with your children.

Consideration for others may seem like an obvious concept. But if you’ve ever had you’re little one yell out “Why does that man smell, daddy?” Or anything along those lines, you’ll know that it isn’t something children know naturally. This is why today is a great day to begin the discussion with your child.

Empathy Matters

Empathy is actually a skill. It isn’t something your child can inherit from you. You may be as nice as pie, but your child may not be as lovely. Children with higher levels of empathy do better at school, develop better relationships with others and go on to flourish in their careers.

This isn’t to say your child has no empathy at all. Toddlers tend to behave closer to their own levels of empathy. They may try to comfort a friend who is upset, or share their toys with a sibling who they care for. Their  As they get older, this natural understanding gives way to their own feelings. And what they are feeling may not always come out in the form of care and understanding. If you’ve ever seen your child hit another child, mock them or laugh when their down you’ll know this is true.

How to teach them

Empathy MattersStart a dialogue on the subject. Get your children to reflect on both their positive and negative behaviour. You can do this by asking them reflective questions:

  • Why did you do that?
  • How do you think it made him/her feel?
  • How would you feel if someone did that to you?

Story time is a great opportunity to teach them values that go hand in hand with empathy. A story like Charlotte’s Web can open up a great discussion about friendship, kindness and difference.

Music is also a great way to get your child expressing their feelings and learning to act on them in a healthy way. You can create opportunities to develop this skill. Role play situations with your children. Engage them in conversation about movies you watch together. It doesn’t have to be brought up as a chastisement when they behave in a way you don’t like.

As they grow older they will come into contact with different people with different personalities, beliefs and backgrounds. A lack of understanding can sometimes lead to confusing feelings that children will not know how to react to naturally. We’ve all met a bully in our lives. They tend to pick on those who are different. Not like them. They’re unable to understand how their actions effect others. All they can focus on are their own feelings.

By teaching our children about the diversity that surrounds them, you’re helping to get them thinking about the difference in the world. Their understanding and ability to empathise will help them to navigate tricky social situations as well as to develop healthy relationships. These are skills that many great leaders possess- diplomacy, tact, foresight. I’m sure we can also think of a few who could stand to learn a thing or two about empathy.

The world needs more kindness and understanding. So don’t shy away from talking about feelings with your children. They will benefit from it in more ways than one.

HAPPINESS IS…DOING YOUR OWN THING

Every parent wants to ensure their child’s happiness and they say doing what you love is the key to being happy. But when you’re a kid it can be tricky working out what your passion is.

Not all children find traditional hobbies and popular activities interesting. There can also be pressure to fit in and do what other kids are doing. Child expert, Dr Ranj Singh, has shared some top tips to help encourage your child to do their own thing:

Happiness is… trying new things

Happiness

There are so many activities out there for children to discover. All you have to do is let them know what’s out there. This doesn’t mean signing them up to expensive lessons or clubs.  Take advantage of classes and clubs in your community. Introduce them to new ideas and see if any take their fancy.

Happiness is… finding your own path

 Each child is different. Give them plenty of time to discover their interests. Some may have an idea of what they are interested in, others may need to try out a range of hobbies, before discovering their passion. There’s no rush!

Happiness is… enjoying what you do

Happiness

Let them enjoy their pursuits. Pressure to win, or to be the best, can suck the joy out of things. Encourage them to try new things and discover themselves. Whatever they choose to explore, it’s about having fun.

Happiness is…your support and encouragement

Kids can be fickle. But this is where your encouragement can help. Get them to stick things out when the going gets tough and build their confidence from an early age. Children are more aware of failure than they let on. But, with your reassurance and motivation they won’t be put off by setbacks.

Enthusiasm can be contagious, so be interested in your child’s passion. It helps when you have your own passions and hobbies that your can share with them. Once they see how happy your thing makes you, they will be motivated to find their own love.

Introduce them to other aficionados

Happiness

It’s lovely to meet like minded people, so introduce them to other children who share their passion. They will be able to swap stories and share advice.

It could also benefit them to talk to children who have different hobbies. Knowing that other kids have their own thing, might inspire them even more.

So start exploring! With your support and encouragement, whatever your child chooses will be something they truly love.

MODERN FAMILY

‘Family life’ may conjure up a different image for each person. But the reality often falls short of the expectation set up by popular culture. The conventional nuclear family is still the model being represented in media. But what is the average UK family really like?

Family Life

A study carried out by frozen food firm McCain explored the day to day life of 2,000 families. The aim of the study was to see how family behaviours had changed and evolved over the years. McCain hope that the research they commissioned will lead to a more accurate representation of family life.

The average family

The study revealed that the average modern family watched 3 and a half hours of television a day, had a Ford in the drive way and went for a walk once a fortnight.

Many families ate their meals together 5 times a week, enjoying a takeaway twice a month. And 3 hours  quality time would be spent with the family a day.

So it would be more realistic to watch a family sitting in front of the TV like the Royals, digging into a take away on a Saturday, than it would watching a family sit around the table eating a home cooked meal.

Changing dynamics

Family dynamics and behaviour have changed over the years, and many families don’t identify with a model of the family which is out of touch with the different family types that exist. For example, more than 1 in 10 families report uncles and aunts being younger than themselves.

The parenting or guardian role is also diverse, but this diversity seems to be lacking in media representation according to the study.

Family life

Misrepresented?

The research carried out by OnePoll discovered that only 49% of Brits felt popular culture provided an accurate representation of their experience of family life. 89% said they hadn’t seen anything in popular culture in the last 6 months that related to them.

McCain’s ‘We Are Family’ campaign aims to provide a more accurate portrayal of family life that people can relate to. McCain are also working in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery to capture real life family portraits. Photographer Sian Davey is travelling the UK snapping a diverse selection of families for the a pop-up exhibit in September.

FATHERS WHO SUFFER IN SILENCE

The trauma of miscarriage is not something that is easily discussed. It’s a silent fear that can keep a couple from celebrating a pregancy too early. And in the aftermath of a loss, the same silence can take hold again   The feelings of loss can be overwhelming and time is needed to not only heal physically, but emotionally.

But when it comes to receiving support during this difficult time, fathers can often be sidelined and overlooked.

Miscarriage Affects Both Parents

Though support systems are in place to offer counselling to women who have suffered a miscarriage, fathers are often forgotten during this process. The loss is suffered by both the mother and the father, the same as their prospective joy. But many fathers are left without recourse in the wake of a miscarriage.

Strong and Silent

Miscarriages

The father is meant to be a rock; someone who can shoulder the grief of his partner and offer support during a traumatic time. A survey carried out by UCL in association with the Miscarriage Association showed that although 85% of partners experience sadness, with 63% suffering from grief and 55% still in shock. Yet only a quarter of partners shared these feelings. Many opting to remain silent for fear of upsetting their partner or saying the wrong thing. Those that did speak up said it had helped them with the grieving process.

The Invisible Man

Getting support after a miscarriage is not only important but necessary. However, the support offered in hospitals aims to mainly the woman suffering the miscarriage. Many partners don’t know who they can talk to, where to go for information or who to seek support from.

Fatherhood has changed so much in recent years, with dads taking an active role in the lead up to childbirth and after. Dads share in the anxiety, excitement and joy of becoming a parent. So when there is a loss they are bound to feel it just as profoundly.

For support, information and advice visit the Miscarriage Association site.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX

Sex education can be awkward when you’re a dad having to talk about sex with your daughter. Dads always struggle a little with daughters. The familiar common ground that you  share with sons is replaced with the foreign terrain of dress up, dolls and glitter. Then, just as you’re getting the hang of a French braid, things change. You’re faced with a new set of challenges: hormones, make- up and every father’s nightmare. Boys.

Sex Education

Having the sex talk is a rite of passage for every parent. Admittedly, it’s easier for dads to discuss ‘the birds and bees’ with boys. You share anatomy, perspective and experience. It’s almost a nostalgic moment, where you get to pass down your manly wisdom. The same insider knowledge can make the father-daughter discussion difficult.

You might be tempted to delegate the topic to mum, or skip it all together. But this is where you need to step up to the plate. Remember, it’s not just about the biology side of sex education, but the emotional support too. By giving your daughter a healthy male perspective on relationships you can help empower her to make good decisions.

Be approachable

Sex Education
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Studies have shown that most teens want to be able to speak to their parents about sex. They feel safer and more confident when they have someone to share their concerns and questions with. School sex education classes alone don’t cut it.

Make sure sex and relationships is an open and on-going topic your daughter can approach you about. Don’t wait until she’s introduced you to her boyfriend, start the dialogue before she becomes a teen. That way she will be more likely to come to you with her questions later on.

Healthy Relationships

We often dismiss teen relationships as puppy love. Those first experiences don’t seem important in the big scheme of things. However, many young women experience emotional, or physical abuse in their teens. Don’t be afraid to talk about what is acceptable and unacceptable treatment from a partner. Equip your daughter to be able to recognise when someone is being controlling, disrespectful, or abusive. Being able to spot these signs early on will help her to make healthy choices.

Set The Example

Having a good relationship with your daughter is the best way to ensure she knows what a healthy relationship looks like. Your support, respect and kindness set the bar for future relationships. So spend one-on-one time together get to know her. It’s no surprise that studies suggest women who have had good relationships with their fathers ‘are more apt to have the kinds of skills and attitudes that lead to more fulfilling relationships.’

Online Support

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or chat forums, many teens are socialising more online. Although they may seem more confident with new technology, many need guidance to recognise potential risks. Take time to talk about appropriate online behaviour and set ground rules. Go through privacy settings, how to block and report abusive, or inappropriate content, and advise her to only interact with people she knows.

Inappropriate messaging

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Sexting is a growing concern, with as many as 6/10 teens saying they have been asked for explicit images and videos. Girls may want to appear more mature, feel pressured to impress, and not know how approach the situation. Have a talk about appropriate message content and make sure she knows that treating someone with respect applies everywhere, including online.

As she grows up she will be looking towards you more than ever for guidance and support. Help her to make wise choices.

WHY DO SOME DADS LEAVE?

“How does a father leave his life?” Is the question Miriam Nash poses in the opening line to her poem ‘The Walking Father Blues.” With more than a million children in the UK being abandoned by their biological fathers, it’s one worth asking.

Abandoned

According to a study carried out by The Centre for Social Justice in 2013, the number of single parent families is increasing by 20,000 a year. In some areas of the UK, up to 50% of families are fatherless.

Though the easy response to such information is to label these fathers as immoral and irresponsible, it doesn’t help to understand the phenomenon. Why do these fathers choose to leave? And what is the impact on the children they have abandoned?

Sexual Healing

As shallow as it may seem, many men move onto new relationships because of sex. The sexual dynamic often changes in relationships, which leads to couples having sex less frequently. As a consequence men may experience sexual frustration.

This can lead to searching for new relationships, engaging in affairs and the eventual break down of the relationship. When given the choice between sex and your family you may think the choice is simple. But for a man who believes a more sexually compatible partner is a better option, it’s not so cut and dried.

Despite talk of open relationships and polyamorous couples, the majority of people believe that a relationship should be monogamous. And the law makes it clear that you can’t be married to more than one woman. Leaving some men choosing between sex or their families, and picking sex.

Abandoned

Accidental Dad

Not every pregnancy is planned. Couples who decide to stay together to raise a child, may grow to realise that despite wanting the best for the child, they aren’t right for each other.  Incompatibility and the pressures of parenting on a new relationship can lead to men leaving. Not because they want to leave their children, but because they want to leave their partner.

No Contact

Abandoned

Fathers who have left their partners may want to maintain contact with their children. But this is easier said than done in some circumstances. Difficult relationships with ex- partners, a new family, and limited visitation rights may all have a part to play in their absence during crucial moments of their child’s life.

Though many fathers want a relationship with their children, trying their best to maintain contact and  even going so far as to fight for full custody, not every dad wants contact. There are fathers who decide to walk away.

Man Deserts and the Father Drought

Growing up without a father can have huge consequences on a child’s choices and behaviour in life. There are higher rates of crime, pregnancy and disadvantage among teens who grow up without a father.

The psychological effect of feeling abandoned can have a powerful impact on children. They may grow up to feel they were unloveable, responsible for their father not staying around, or harbouring anger that turns into aggression.

The breakdown of families not only has a profound impact on the well being of the children who end up being abandoned, but also our economy.  Taxpayers pay £1,820 to cover the ‘Cost of Family Failure’ with the government spending nearly as much as the defence budget to combat problems such as truancy, crime and anti-social behaviour.

Be There

Abandoned

There are men who struggle with the choice of leaving their families. Men who want to ensure that though they no longer want to be a part of a relationship they do want to be a part of their children’s lives. These men should be supported so they are able to do this.

It would also be false to assume every father is trying to be there for their kids. Like Nash’s poem, some just walk away to better things without a thought for the family they leave behind. It would be great if these dads could realise the impact they were having. If they chose to turn it around and be there for the children who need them. Rather than leave single mothers singing their child the blues of a father who walked away.