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How do you teach empathy?!

(6 Posts)
JandT Mon 06-Jun-11 22:55:59

I have a 9 nearly 10 year old DSS and he seems to be totally lacking in feelings if his behaviour upsets other people. For example, we told him if he played out with friends he had to come back on time or Mummy and Daddy would worry then, he came back late as he'd wanted to come the long way back. DH says it might be normal to not care about parents feelings at that age but I'm not sure. If I had known at the age of 5 that I'd upset my parents I'd have been upset too. DSS admits he doesn't care. Today at school he showed another boy his willy (has had a problem with it) and when we said how would he feel if the boy had done that to him, he said he wouldn't have liked it. It doesn't occur to him that if the other boy didn't like it (which from his apparent response he wasn't 'interested' at all) he shouldn't do it. I just don't know how to teach him to care.

Background to this is his Mum died when he was nearly 4, moved back with DH to in law's house and was spoilt rotten for 3 years til I came along and he got a normal family back. MIL taught him that he could do no wrong (DH thinks this is why) but we've spent the last 3 years teaching him he should be responsible for his actions so I don't know why it isn't sinking in! We now have a 1 year old and DSS is a very loving big brother but still would put himself first.

I keep worrying that his future isn't good if he doesn't care about others feelings.


PS. We have had a 'serious chat' about the willy showing incident and hopefully it won't happen again...

FernieB Tue 07-Jun-11 08:04:20

Fairly normal for kids to put themselves first. I would have thought the best way was to lead by example and it seems that you are doing this. Also talking to him when he's upset someone and letting him know the consequences of his actions. As to the staying out later than allowed - I would give him an earlier time to come in as a punishment. If he did it again, I wouldn't let him out for a few days.

cory Tue 07-Jun-11 08:37:53

You teach empathy by modelling it and telling him off when he is unkind.

But with a 9yo you want to be careful not to over-egg the pudding by using guilt tripping to ensure good behaviour. Ime boys at this age are very anxious of maintaining their independence and very embarrassed by emotions. Far easier to guide a 5yo through emotions than a 9yo.

So I would say just flatly state "you need to be home at x hour" rather than making him focus on your emotions. If he misbehaves I would quite calmly tell him that is X time off his next playtime. Brisk and cheerful works best with this age group ime.

JandT Tue 07-Jun-11 11:47:18

With the being out later than he was told, the first time we explained (again) why this wasn't good, talked about why he had been late and told him if it happened again he wouldn't be allowed out until he showed he was grown up enough to be safe (he'd gone somewhere that wasn't where he'd told us as an older boy had wanted to and he didn't know how to/want to disagree). He chose not to go out for a little while after that. Then he came back late again (we'd explained before him going, once again about being safe and on time) so we told him he couldn't go out for a week. He doesn't seem to get that annoyed but he can be quite stubborn/bloody minded about not letting us know he's annoyed!

We always explain why he shouldn't upset people and about the consequences, trying not to lie or make him feel bad, just explaining how it can be dangerous or make people not like him(something he seems to worry about but not enough to change his behaviour). He sometimes lies to MIL to get what he wants (we think she turns a blind eye to it) so we did once after this had happened a few times, make him apologise to her. She was a little shocked but did tell him he mustn't lie. We tried explaining that Nanny wouldn't believe him in the future and that it wasn't nice for Nanny to know that he didn't mind if he lied to her as long as he got something he wanted.

So, we've basically been strict but fair in the hope he'd improve. He doesn't lie so much now (he has a specific 'punishment' for that so he seems to be learning) but he still doesn't care about people's feelings.

Maybe I was just a sensitive child but most people I know would have said the opposite!!

cory Wed 08-Jun-11 08:37:58

It is not necessarily the case that your ds is less sensitive than you: it may be that he puts on a hard act because he is more sensitive and can't bear too much emotion.

I have one just like that, and I find it helps if I can be very down-to-earth and matter-of-fact: just state the rule and dish out the punishment. At 11, he is a little more communicative than he was at 9; maybe one day he will grow into a civilised human being.

JandT Wed 08-Jun-11 13:36:13

Thanks Cory-I think straight forward and down to earth works too (I'm a youth worker in my spare time and admit the reason I prefer teenagers is you generally know they understand!). I'll keep my fingers crossed on the communication side then.

He's doing so well in so many ways (and a hell of a lot more confident than he used to be) so it's just so frustrating we don't seem to be moving on this!

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