Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Empathy and CPS Parenting

There are  2 approaches to empathy that are found in different parenting styles. Progressive parenting uses empathy with compassion. Traditional parenting uses empathy or perfunctory empathy.

Progressive parenting which focuses on the whole child including his motives and feelings takes seriously a child's concerns. Getting a clear understanding of the child's concerns is critical for solving problems in a collaborative way= Plan B. Here we use 'empathy with compassion'. 

 Traditional parents uses ' empathy ' to get compliance. When we use reflective listening or empathy we say to kids that they have been heard. This technique is sold as having magic powers to produce instant results. So when a mom uses Plan A=adult imposing adult will, it sounds like this.

 Mom:  you can't go to a friend more than twice during the week
              Kid:  you are always   so unfair 
             Mom: Hmmm. It sounds like you think what I have proposed isn't fair. That makes you feel angry , doesn't it !?
(parody) -             Kid: Yes, But    …well, I guess that I can live with it. (Pause) Gosh, thanks for taking the time to understand me! I feel all better now!
This is called ' perfunctory' empathy and is rather apathetic and indifferent .The child perceives that their concerns are being ignored and is resigned to the fact that her mother will never see her perspective.

From   Ross Greene interview -Lost at school  on empathy and collaborative problem solving

 As I describe in Lost at School, there are three ingredients required for resolving a problem collaboratively.  first is to gather information from the kid so as to achieve the clearest possible understanding of a kid's concern or perspective on the problem you're trying to resolve (I call this the Empathy step).The second is to communicate the adult's concern or perspective on the same problem (I refer to this as the Define the Problem step).And the third is the brainstorming of solutions that will address the concerns of both parties (I've called this the Invitation).Perfunctory empathy – which is not a desirable thing – relates to the first ingredient, and refers to the tendency on the part of adults to gloss over or rush through the process of information seeking, thereby achieving an insufficient level of understanding of a kid's concern or perspective, guaranteeing that the kid's concern will remain unaddressed, and perpetuating challenging behavior in response to that problem.
Why do adults do this? Well, we are pressed for time (of course, if we don't take the time to understand the concern or perspective setting the stage for a kid's challenging behavior then we're going to be spending a lot of time dealing with his challenging behavior).Often adults use perfunctory empathy because we're certain we already know what the kid's concern or perspective is (my experience is that we're often wrong).And often it's because we're not sure what words to use to "drill" for more specific information. But in many instances it's because we're worried that if we take a kid's concern into consideration, somehow our concern won't be taken into account. Now…and this is rhetorical question…why are there so many adults who are worried that their concerns won't be taken into account?'

Plan B = both concerns 
 So if a kid is not happy to go out to play in recess, a Plan B would go like this. The challenge is to make sure we use ' empathy with compassion' and not ' perfunctory empathy ' in the CPS process.

Teacher – I have noticed that you are not so keen about going out for recess-play lately.
Kid – Yes
Teacher – so what's up?
Kid – I just don't want to go out.

Teacher - getting empathy wrong using perfunctory empathy

Ok so you don't want to go out for recess – the thing is that I don't mind you staying with me every once in a while, but sometimes I have to leave the classroom and there won't be anyone to watch you .Do you understand?
Kid – Uh –huh
Teacher- Do you think we can come up with a plan so of what to do when I need to leave the classroom, and you don't want to go out for recess. Do you have any ideas?

Teacher – getting the empathy step right
You don't want to go out for recess; can you try to help me understand why?
The kids concerns could be that she does not feel socially accepted or there might be bullying or there is something else going on and only she can give us information. Often it takes a bit of drilling down to get a clear idea and understanding of her concerns.

By using perfunctory empathy and paying lip service to a child's concerns we are going to come up with a solution that does not deal with the underlying problem.

There are times when a kid comes over to us, upset about something and is just looking for empathy. She just wants someone to listen and empathize and feel for her. We can use reflective listening and empathy to help her get over the emotional hurt.

But when we want to collaboratively solve problems we need to use ' empathy with compassion'.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Should Parents be friends with their kids?

Lots of parenting articles and books admonish parents - Be a parent, don't be your kid's friend. And when I see this I recall the following Biblical sources usually cited when discussing the parent –child relationship.

In this week's Parasha-portion Genesis 31:46, we read how Jacob- Ya'akov instructs his BROTHERS to gather stones and form a mound. This mound   was to be a monument and a witness to the treaty between and Laban and Jacob. The obvious question is that he had only one brother   Esau and he was not around. Rashi answers that Jacob referred to his sons as ' brothers' because they identified with his struggle and were committed to him. The relationship between Jacob and his sons could be described as an older brother-sibling relationship.
Further on in the Book of Genesis 45:8 , Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and he says that G-d has placed him as an Av= father to Pharaoh.  Rashi explains that the word Av=father as being a friend and a patron = from the Latin/greek  'pater'.  The word patron means a benefactor and protector.
Traditionally kids show respect to their parents by addressing them with the words my father- mother, my teacher. So from these sources the relationship could be described as one of an older brother, friend or mentor.

It is pretty obvious that a parent should not make her kid her confidant and burden her child emotionally with all her troubles and that she doesn't share everything. But being a friend of your kid helps the parent to be a ' real, genuine   and authentic person'. Alfie Kohn Alfie Kohn  reminds us that your child needs a human being – flawed, caring and vulnerable – more than he or she needs someone pretending to be a crisply competent Perfect Parent. If parents don't share with kids things they enjoy or hate, or their needs that they have, kids will never be able to empathy with parents, and see that they are real people who also have needs. Real people are not perfect, screw up and make mistakes. Apologizing to kids not only models how that should be done, but shows that it is possible to acknowledge to ourselves and others that we make mistakes and that things are sometimes our fault, without  losing face or feeling hopelessly inadequate. But apologizing exposes our fallibility and vulnerability and makes us feel a little unsafe when we stand on the perfect parent pedestal, a position of ultimate and unquestionable authority. Even saying thank you to your child in a sincere and genuine way, that without their help you would have been lost exposes your vulnerability. There is nothing to fear because it is when we expose our vulnerability, we create connection and facilitate learning   opportunities.  Brene Brown teaches that it is vulnerability that creates great business leaders and when you shut off vulnerability, you shut off opportunity. If vulnerability is good for business leaders, how much more is it so for parents!

 Another reason why parents fear developing a genuine and warm relationship with kids is that it will compromise their ability to set limits , impose their authority and control them.
In fact the opposite is true. Do you ever wonder why parents and teachers are the last to know when kids screw up or act in an inappropriate way? When kids feel that they are unconditionally accepted and loved by their parents for who they are , and trust them to be their guides and help, kids will come to parents for help. It is our healthy attachments with kids that allow us to be their guides and mentors.

We can set limits in a unilateral way and demand compliance or we can let kids participate in setting limits using the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach. When our concerns and expectations are addressed by the agreed solutions, we are in fact setting a limit together with the child.

As parents and educators we really want our kids to learn to set limits. Instead of giving a list of rules and consequences we can offer them principles and guidelines to help them navigate the world. We want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need .If so, then our coming up with   limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act.

Parents should be friends with their kids, but it is not a friendship of equals but similar to the trust, respect and caring that a mentor shows for his student.

Barbara Coloroso was once asked to help parents with their young teenager. When he was a pre-teen he was such a good kid, he always listened to us. Now he no longer listens to us, just to his teenage friends. She answered the parents that nothing has changed – he used to listen to you, now he is listening to them. When a parent is a friend and a mentor the child is not being compliant but self determined and acts in an autonomous way giving expression to the values he acquired from parents and teachers and has made his own.