Author: Julie H., Foster Mom
Empathy: I want to start with a quick story. Miss D came home from school one day and she was talking about new kids that she had met and who she all talked to at school that day. She went on to tell me about a kid that was “weird and creepy” but she sat with them at lunch and talked with them. I asked her “If they are weird and creepy, why did you talk with them?”. Her response to me was, “Well, who else will talk to them? They need someone to talk to, right?”. Empathy. Miss D has it.
The question that I always struggle with as a parent (biological or foster) is how do I teach my kids to have empathy for others? How do I stress to them the idea of thinking outside of themselves and having that emotional response to someone else’s joy or pain? I believe that empathy sometimes needs to be explicitly demonstrated and taught to kids. But what’s the best way? Does the same method work for all kids? Where do foster kids fall into this continuum of an empathetic type of response to others?
When I apply the concept of empathy to the foster kids that I know, I see the kids having empathy for others, sometimes to the extreme, sometimes to their own self detriment. They seek out “injured souls” in peer relationships and look to help them when really they need to help themselves first. Teenage foster kids that I know readily admit this.
They say it’s just part of who they are. They are “fixers”. They are “good at fixing other people’s lives”. Some have put the oxygen on others before they even think to put the oxygen on themselves. Putting the oxygen on themselves isn’t even in their thought process! Why is their own self-care not at the forefront?
These kids are survivors. They are true survivors, but they look to help others first which seems the opposite of what survivors do. Typically, in an emergency situation, a survivor thinks about themselves, but in the case of the foster kids I know, they save others first…to their own detriment. Some expert psychologists probably have reasons for why this occurs, but as a foster mom, I just sit back and wonder how I can demonstrate to foster kids not to care TOO much, and self-preservation is important too. THEY are important. They are LOVED enough to start to love themselves FIRST.