We've been playing a couple new games in our house this week, made up games, in order to help a certain (eldest) child consider the feelings of others a bit more than he normally does (ie. hardly ever). I'm not saying he's unkind--just highly motivated, persistent, and focused on how to best achieve his goals. Here's a quick example of how focused and intense he can be.
The other night Rob and I could hear Wylie sobbing in from his bed, shortly after bedtime. Rob went up and spent a few minutes with him, then he said Wylie wanted to talk with me as well. I went up and held him while he cried. (I think the real reason for all of the built up emotion was that Juniper and Kale had been sick all week--resulting in a particularly boring week, with not enough parent or sibling interaction.) However, the thing that sent him into tears is this: "When I'm grown up I'm going to invent a space ship that will travel to other galaxies and take pictures of distant planets. But, it will take so long for the ship to travel there, that by the time it gets there I'll be dead and I'll never know if it worked."
Hmmm. He's right of course. We talked about scientists and how they often do things for the greater good and knowledge of humanity. This didn't really help. He thought maybe he could invent a time machine first. I agreed that would solve his problem. He went to bed mostly happy. We have since begun reading A Wrinkle in Time, and I anticipate an upcoming study of Einstein's Theory of Relativity.
Anyway, its that kind of focus, both intense and emotional, that surrounds most of what he does throughout the day resulting in very little thought towards what other people may need or want. This often leads to Wylie feeling slighted when other people's (particularly Juniper's) needs have to come before his. Which in turn leads him to feel resentful. I'm sure you get the idea. I typically try to stay out of the way of any sibling squabbles, but I have about had it with the recent rise in inconsiderate behavior, and have been unsure just how to handle it.
Until, this weekend when we heard the story "How Full is Your Bucket?" by Tom Rath. Honestly, the book itself was not something I ever would have picked up and it wasn't a great book in most regards--except that it was a really great analogy for understanding and explaining feelings to a kid like Wylie. He got it, and I could tell he did. Those of you who went through the D.A.R.E. training in middle school in the mid 90's may remember your I.L.A.C. (I am Lovable and Capable) demonstrated with a balloon. The bucket is the same idea. The story explains how when your bucket is full you feel great about yourself, and gives examples of some things that may make your bucket more or less full. It also goes on to explain how you can help fill or empty other peoples (even dogs') buckets.
Hence, the Bucket Check. At random intervals throughout the day I, or any one else, can call a "Bucket Check". Then, everyone shares the status of their bucket. If someone's bucket is not full we all try to see what we can do that will help fill it. When we're all full, an acorn goes into the jar on the counter. When the jar is full we get to go do something super fun. Honestly I don't like the last part of the game, but in order to get the game going Wylie needed a little external motivation. We've only played this game for a day, so I may be over estimating its success. But, both kids seem to understand the concept and Wylie has been able to figure out some nice ways to help fill Juniper's bucket. It is interesting how often both kids wanted to offer chocolate as a way to fill the other's bucket. Hmmm. Anyway, so far so good.
The other game is one we call "What About Me?" This is where one of us makes up a scenario (the crazier the better) and the other person has to say how they would feel in that situation, and how it would in turn make others feel. (ie. if Juniper ate the entire 5lb. box of frozen blueberries how would she feel? How would Wylie feel if he watched her do it? How would Mama feel when she heard Juniper did that? How would Kale feel? ). This gets pretty silly, but I think it is good practice in imaging how our actions impact others, and also at understanding particular people and how they are likely to respond. I can see some role playing happening with this game in the future.
I realize for many families these games would be ridiculous and unnecessary. But, I think there must be others out there with kids who need a little practice in the empathy department. I'm not sure if these will make much of a difference in the long run, but I figure it can't hurt anyway.