Arlene is on the SCENE

Posts Tagged ‘children

Heading into next week’s holiday, feeling thankful and all, I’m going to focus on something my young client said to me a couple of weeks ago. It was the day before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Winds were picking up; gray skies threatened. The streets were empty as I headed to see two new clients, the day after a social worker removed them from their home.

They were at their aunt’s house. An adult cousin was there too, with her two kids. An uncle came by. Their godmother called while I was there. As I left, another aunt pulled up to see the children, give them some Halloween candy. The kids asked me many important questions: What was I going to dress up as for Halloween? Will the hurricane knock this house down? What is my middle name? Did I have any more tic-tacs?

I explained what was happening to them as best I could, and let them know the adults would keep them safe. But they may not be able to go home for a while. I told them that they would be staying with their family until their mother was ready to take care of them again. The older one blew out a long sigh of relief. Then he looked worried again.

“What happens to kids who don’t stay with their family? Where do they go?”

“They go to a foster home,” I answered.

He shook his head slowly. Then stared right at me. “I’m the luckiest kid alive! I get to stay with my family!”

Yes, indeed. The blessings of family.

Just some of the Liu family

Happy thanksgiving! Hope everyone enjoys their lucky time with family!

Aha! They found it! They found out where empathy comes from.

Drumroll…the anterior insular cortex.

Aren’t you glad you know?

Scientists have identified an area of the brain that seems to be responsible for empathy. Now, the study sample was pretty small, and they seemed to focus on the understanding of others’ pain specifically, but this is interesting research. The researchers found that three patients who had lesions to the anterior insular cortex had more difficulty “evaluating the emotional state of pain” in other people, when shown pictures of people who were in pain. This is compared to other patients who had lesions in other areas of the brain, as well as people who had no brain damage.

What do we do with this knowledge? Well, good question. They say that this may help to develop cognitive and behavioral therapies for social challenges such as a lack of empathy. As a therapist, I’m not sure how knowing what area of the brain is affected would inform my therapeutic approach. It’s not like I choose cognitive behavioral therapy over traditional play therapy based on what area of the brain is affected in my client. They also say that this knowledge could help to better understand the organic basis for social emotional challenges and thus inform pharmacological treatments. Now that I can see, although I have some hesitation about that approach, especially with children.

All very interesting, although having just talked about empathy with my good friends at Fallsmead Elementary School in Maryland yesterday, I think we can accomplish quite a lot by simply modeling and practicing empathy. One student asked me, “Why do we need to practice it?” I had to think about that one. I responded that if we’re really being honest with ourselves, often we operate as if it’s “all about me.” Admit it, we do! So we’ve got to strive to reach that higher goal of being empathetic to our peers. If each one of us strives for that, the world is a safer place for all of us to be ourselves and emerge with a positive self-image.

Check out our free school presentations about empathy, embracing differences and the value of diversity. And start practicing!

I watched the debate along with the throngs. First thought, what a way to spend an anniversary. 🙂

But when I sat down to watch, I called the kids in. At ages 13 and almost 12, I figured it’s about time. Time for them to participate and engage. They need to pay attention to what’s happening around them, learn to keep learning, and become part of the discourse.

OK, well, it was a challenge. The older one checked her email, glancing up once in a while, and the younger one arranged his mini-M&M’s into shapes on the coffee table. But then they did begin to listen, especially to my shouts at the television. And then the 13 year old went off: how are you going to lower taxes for everyone and still have enough money to pay for everyone?! The younger one looked up at me to ask, “Wouldn’t Obama have done that already?”

Ah, there it is. The healthy questioning that is the foundation of this country. (It’s true. See Stan Mack’s great new book.) The refusal to simply accept what the government or the leaders or the establishment says just because they’re appear to be at the top. The masses have something to say too. We have brains. And our leaders have no secret formula. It’s all up for debate.

I’m hoping that our next book in the Arlene series, Arlene, Rebel Queen, can help to empower our children to ask questions, speak up, think for themselves. Arlene and her friends learn the right–and wrong–way to create change. The goal is to convince the young that they have a voice in all this too.

One of my favorite songs, my favorite groups, speaks to this beautifully:

On Children by Sweet Honey in the Rock


Free Teacher's Guide! REVISED for Common Core!

Teachers: Print script from "Rebel Queen" for classroom.

Download Extension Activity here

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Arlene On the Scene is proudly sponsored by the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation.

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