I suppose if Nathan and I were race-car drivers our children would be mounting some engine-powered thing and zooming around a track. If we were a rodeo family we'd say: "That young'in has been riding a horse before she could walk!". But we're not. You know this already I'm pretty sure. Instead we are Empathy Champions, and Empathy Entrepreneurs. "Talking shop" at our house means a lot of brain science and feeling words. So I suppose it's no wonder that our children, knowing nothing other than this sort of thing, toss this shit around like pros.
The other day Echo got upset about something, something small that didn't match her level of emotion, and before I got my head on straight I offered to simply fix the thing that was bothering her. Oh she was pissed by that. With a growl: "MOM! IT"S NOT A GREEN LIGHT!!!"
This child. She is referring to the fact that human beings are not capable of processing information like solutions or advice when they are in a heightened state of emotion. When intense feelings pop up the brain pulls back to just the basics. The only way to re-open the higher functioning brain is to support the emotional system (usually through empathy) and wait for the rest of brain function to kick back in.
I was busted.
In my haste I forgot the brain science. But she didn't.
(Our new charts that illustrate this phenomenon are now in the shop.)
At the library yesterday the girls jostled for who would get to swipe their library books through the check-out machine first. Echo muscled her way to the front. When I asked her to pause she was irritated. I explained that Xi wasn't feeling good about the situation. With impatience Echo said: "Well Mom, just give her empathy for that so we can get these books checked out!"
In fact the sibling fighting has developed new dimensions with the girls increasing knowledge of all things empathy related. They still fight. Fucking A they fight. But the discussions about the fights have improved and their attempts to avoid fighting have gotten better. Echo lately has been that fierce version of a child, the flare up with a red face and fight for your life kind of child, even when the issue at hand is nothing more than a fairy figurine. Xi hates this. She hates it when Echo yells at her, hates it when Echo lashes out, hates it that their game comes to a crashing horrendous end. But after she receives empathy she is full of empathy for Echo. Instead of seeing Echo simply as a lame little sister she sees her as someone struggling and she's super willing to help out.
Together the girls decided that when Echo reached her blow-up stage Xi would give her empathy and touch her - in an attempt to soothe her emotional system. (Be still my Empathy Champion heart!). But Xi soon found that when Echo blew up she didn't particularly feel warm and cozy toward her, she felt pissed. So we talked about being able to soothe our emotional systems with self-empathy. Xi was going to give herself some to help herself out and Echo was going to use it to slow down her flare-ups. Echo calls it MAGIC (which it is) and avoided enough battles that day by declaring "frustration!" to make me want to dance the two-step.
In fact Xi ended up holding Echo for a long time as Echo cried. She was feeling left out, feeling alone because everyone else in the family has a better handle on emotions than she does. We huddled together in an empathetic cuddle, letting her know that she'd get there. You'd think we were talking about staying up past ten or some other coveted milestone.
On Saturday when Xi wanted to wait in the car and read library books instead of accompanying me into the craft store Echo started to cry. When we tuned in Echo said: "Xi keeps changing her mind about this. It feels unnerving!"
Unnerving. I love it.
Unnerving isn't in the Feeleez ABCs but maybe it should be. We put our copy of the ABCs on the laptop as a screensaver. So throughout the day the cute illustrations pop up. Our girls, unbelievably, are not tired of these images. They crowd around the ones they like and suggest new ones daily. "Mom, there should be an Nora Feels Nervous! or a Karen Feels Krazy! or an Echo Feels Enraged page!" I'm loving the screensaver use of the book because it's not very often that a family settles down in front of the computer to read an Ebook. (We're still looking for a publisher! I look forward to the day this book is in good ol' fashioned paper form.) But images flickering throughout the day makes for casual but effective emotional learning. It's fairly brilliant.
Basically we're dorking out on empathy around here. But I can't think of a better subject to moon over, for us, for our community, for the world at large, than empathy.