How do you teach empathy? I try to model it when I can. I try to explain it when the opportunity arises. But interestingly enough, whenever I try to be a "good parent" and do all that talking and explaining, my kids up and kick me in the teeth. I even try to keep it short and sweet and in easy words. No dice. I guess empathy is not something you can teach, but something that must be experienced. I remain hopeful, after all, my son is only five.
It is unnerving to see him tease his brother unmercifully, laugh when someone gets hurt or when someone else gets in trouble, and simply not care that he has made a poor choice. I can't decide if he is hiding his true feelings and pretending not to care, or he doesn't get it, or he simply doesn't care. Maybe it's because I'm female and males have totally different reactions--even at this young age? My husband doesn't seem overly concerned about any of this. Maybe I'm over-reading it. I don't know, but I'm concerned.
Anyway, tonight I found part of my son's medicine regime (he takes 3 or 4 things right now for allergies and wheezing) crushed up under the table. Now I know this isn't an accident because it happens to be the tablet that tastes the worst and that my son complains about the most. I also know it is his, because no one else in the house takes it. I called him into the kitchen and we talked about a) hiding medicine is just like telling a lie, b) not taking medicine keeps us from getting well, and c) how mommy understands exactly how he feels about taking medicine. We pretty much got part b down, but the rest of it? Well I guess we'll see.
The reason I am so upset about the medicine under the table is, I happen to know a little girl about my son's age who used to hide her asthma medication. I also remember getting in trouble many times for hiding it, flushing it, spitting it out, etc. I also remember how frustrated my parents were by it because a) I was lying, b) I wasn't getting better because I wouldn't take it, and c) it was very expensive medicine. Looking back, I suppose I'm as guilty as my child, because it is obvious to me now (as an adult) that I didn't care very much about a, b, or c. I got caught at least 3 times in my recollection. These were not pleasant moments.
I hurt for my son. I hurt for him that he has to take this medicine to stay well enough to play outside and go to school. I hurt for him that I have to give him bad tasting yucky stuff. I feel like the bad guy, even though I'm the good guy. The reason it is so hard for me to play nurse is that I KNOW how frustrating it is to have to keep taking this stuff every time he gets sick. I was that kid. I missed more recess than I played. I stayed inside almost every day between October and June for more years than I can remember.
My son loves to hear me tell stories about when I was little. He loves to hear about the time I fell off a scooter at my friend Jennifer's house and scraped my knee really really badly. I told him that one, when he fell off his bike the first time. He begs to hear about the time my sister and I saw Santa Claus by hiding under the dining room table and watching him walk through our house to find the living room when we were 3 and 4. I told him that one when he was four, to keep him in his bed at night.
So I tried to share my story with him tonight about how I used to hide my medicine. I didn't go into details for fear of giving him ideas--but I did share with him just how much I understood his dislike for medicine, why he was driven to hide it, and why I wasn't mad at him for doing it. I did however tell him that I was very upset about the lie he told and we reviewed what a lie is and what it means. I don't guess this story was nearly as interesting because he didn't seem to care. Maybe in the morning when it's medicine time, he'll ask me to tell him the story again.
I feel let down on a couple of levels. I didn't make an important connection with him on of all things, honesty and empathy. He didn't appreciate my story (well that's my problem, but it still didn't feel good). And he still lied and wasn't sorry. I feel like I'm getting it all wrong. Fortunately, tomorrow is another day for me and for my son. We can only try again. I have a hunch this won't be the last time I tell him the story of hiding my asthma medicine, after all, I hid it many, many times.