Still kinda wondering how this empathy thing works

So yesterday i attended a webinar on how to support kids with disabilities that affect their emotional regulation. Most of it was related to boundary setting, to clear and fair rules (for example, even if Moira acts out frequently because of her disability and the other kids rarely do, apply the rules to everyone rather than having specific stricter rules for Moira because she’s “the bad kid.”), and to involving the kids in the process of consequences (for example, “Jacob, you used inappropriate words after agreeing you wouldn’t. Which do you feel is fair, bad consequence you dislike A, or bad consequence you dislike B?”)

Discussion also focused on the idea that once a kid has hit the point of lashing out, they may not be capable of stopping themselves or calming down immediately, so discussions or punishments should wait until the kid has calmed enough to better control their emotions.

But there was one thing I noticed that made me continue to wonder things I’ve wondered before. In one slide, the presenter showed her class rules, some of which were concrete stuff like “use your inside voice” and some of which were more abstract things like “listen to the teacher and the other students.”

And I noticed that on that list of rules was “empathy.”

Now it did not specify which kind, and my guess is that using the terms we generally use on here it means “cognitive empathy” since, again, as we use terms here it seems we believe that affective empathy is fixed, such that demanding kids use/practice something they innately lack isnbad and cruel.

Which I guess makes sense too—if a kid has difficulty regulating their emotions, then reminding tjem to use reason makes some sense: how would you feel if he pushed or bit you? Don’t do it to him then!

But idk I still kind of wonder about this. It still seems weird to me that the idea isn’t to help teach kids what appropriate emotional responses to others feel like. I mean an emotional disability isn’t. Going to just go away, but it seems like part of the process should be encouragement when people do feel appropriately responsive emotions?

Like it’s rare that it would NEVEr happen at all, even sociopaths can do it to some extent from what I gather though it takes effort.

Idk I still feel like this pure rational moral code thing is… weird. Like a lot of kids who are ND in particular ways think stuff through l, was one of them.

But a lot of other kids are less thinky and more impulse driven.

So, I tend to see your side of things and agree with you re: The Empathy Debate ™. But I dislike the idea that adults should focus on teaching kids how to respond emotionally to things.

I think being a child probably counts as an emotional disability, for most people. Most kids have a hard time regulating their emotions, and most kids don’t have cognitive and/or affective empathy in a quantity that would be normal for an adult. A lot of modern research on early childhood suggests that validating a child’s emotions is necessary for them to feel safe. The message should be “it’s okay to feel the way you feel”, even if there’s an added “it’s not okay to act the way you’re acting”.

I’m having a hard time thinking of how an adult could tell a child that their feelings are incorrect without shaming them. And that shame can be traumatizing for kids. It teaches them that their core self, their emotional landscape, is bad and wrong. Kids need an environment that is emotionally safe before they can start to develop emotional responsiveness that will consistently lead them to good actions.

I don’t know, man. I think a lot of the problems people have as adults go back to the fact that some adults treat all kids as if they’re going to grow up to become serial killers if their emotions aren’t constantly policed. I’m also a bit unable to take your seminar leader’s point of view very seriously, because there’s a metric ton of research showing that punishment doesn’t work. In particular, making a kid choose how they get punished seems cruel. I’m sure this wasn’t the intention; I think people are becoming aware that you have to give kids choices about things and that doing random unpredictable things in response to misbehavior is bad, and that’s a good thing. But if a kid lashes out, then calms down and is able to have a conversation about their behavior, why not just have that conversation and be done? I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t have to apologize if they hurt others, just that you can’t train kids into healthy responses by hurting them emotionally. Kids have to be trusted to develop at their own pace, even if you have to have the same conversation with them more than once, even if they say (or occasionally do) horrifying stuff.

I don’t think it’s about telling a kid that their feelings are incorrect, though?

I think it’s about—for example, the kids described in the presentation were kids with issues like ODD, and the behavior issues were things like hitting, shoving, cussing at other kids, etc. then when told to stop “the rules apply to everyone else not me. You can’t punish me like this! *bites staff*”

I suppose it could be argued that this kids actual problem was rational not emotional—in Kantian terms he seemed to fail to understand that the categorical imperative applies to him, not just everyone else.

But while staff can miss important things, I do take these presenters at their word that this kid’s issue, primarily, was one of Emotional regulation, not bad first principles. That in order to even get to the point where he could think about how the CI works he needed to be calm enough to be able to think rationally at all, rather than just lash out due to frustration.

Which is why I say that I think some of an adults role is not just to notice imminent meltdowns and help the kid have chill/cool down time but also for those things to help teach the kid “this is what it feels like to not be frustrated, and this is how I feel about other people when I’m not in the middle of a meltdown.”

Because if the kid doesn’t know that because no one ever reaches out to them, then they learn that frustration is just how things are. And frustration and the inability to cope with it leads to acting out, so acting out is just what I do.

I’ve said this before, but I strongly suspect people are misreading me about all this. I get the sense people think I’m trying to say adults should strictly control kids and that this leads to proper emotions, when that’s very much not what I’m saying.

Basically, my point is: if you’re bad at emotional regulation and in an environment where only negative emotional responses are encouraged, you’re going to have a difficult time getting to the point where you even CAN think objectively enough to make your moral rules up.

If you’re excellent at emotional regulation, or your affect is so flat that bad emotional environments don’t affect you much, or you’re just so nerdy and systemizing that you don’t get deeply invested in what is going on around you, maybe this won’t be a problem for you. But it is a problem I think people have.

It’s weird—people think I’m typical minding and assuming everyone has strong emotions (I think.)

I think other people are (Also? Also.) typical minding and assuming emotionless reason is easy for people, even people with emotional disabilities.

I think in a classroom context, what’s meant by empathy is basically “how would you feel if someone did that to you?” to discourage children from eg. hitting or stealing.

I think also sometimes things kids say aren’t representative of their actual beliefs- they’re expressing themselves as well as they can, but sometimes they’re saying vaguely similar things rather than accurately communicating their beliefs.

“It’s not fair” RE: having to follow the same rules everyone else has to follow might be closer to “I’m feeling really angry and frustrated about being punished.” Like, they do think it’s fair that everyone has to follow the same rules, they just have strong feelings about it when it happens to them.

Quite possibly. The way the presenter described it though she said that sensitivity to perceived fairness actually is part of some emotional disabilities, and that fairness isn’t always defined in a way that makes obvious sense to the adults. For example, she said that in her experience a lot of these kids perceive games where kids are “out” if they’re caught or tagged as unfair, and that one way that she’s found to mitigate this is to have the “out” players still involved in the game somehow (for example, a kid who’s “out” becomes “seaweed” and can’t run after the others, but can tag them as they run by.)

To me, it seems like being disappointing that you don’t get to play the game any more, but have to watch everyone else carry on playing, would be pretty normal for most kids?

But having that mild disappointment become an emotional issue that leads to behavioural problems only happens for kids with emotional regulation problems. Like feeling sad and “sulking” after being tagged out, or acting out because they’re being expected to sit quietly when that’s really difficult for them.

Sometimes this can be a context things with adults I think – are you aiming for a game to be competitive, with losers? Should kids who are slower runners only get to play for a couple of minutes, then have to sit quietly, while faster kids get to play for much longer? I mean, that is unfair. It’s unfair in a way that’s very minor, but it should certainly be possible for adults to observe that.

Also in my experience those kids of games often interact badly with bullying/ less liked children. If people always try to get you out first because they don’t want to play with you, even when adults are making them, emotional reactions to that are going to seem really disproportionate to adults.

Right, but in that case empathy seems like a good thing to try and develop, use, or practice. If you feel happy and excited because Sarah is still “in,” then—well, it’s not that being out is suddenly fun, but it might help to take the sting out of the boredom to have positive emotions about others’ positive emotions.

Like, in this case, saying “empathy is bad” would be like saying “compersion is bad.” It’s not, from what I gather, an easy emotion to cultivate, and some people may not be able to. But if you ARE able to the world is a lot less obnoxious because hey at least someone else is happy, and that makes me a little happy too (asssuming the person isnt happy about things it’s bad to be happy about, like other people’s suffering or something)

I’ve never been a fan of games designed so the worst players stop playing soonest. Pedagogically, that seems like the opposite of what you should want as a teacher, especially in Phys Ed.


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