Empathy with illness.

Feverish and nauseous? A clumsy idiot. 

We backtrack and ask firstborn to apologise; to desist; to understand that this really isn’t the right time to swipe at a sibling. An hour later, and ‘backtracking’ is more like ‘reversing back along the whole bleeding lane’. 

We’ve had the attitude, we’ve had the wisecracks and it’s becoming clear that actually she’s finding it very hard to put into words how someone with ‘flu (or any other illness) would be feeling and would like to be spoken to. 

My husband took the lead on the chat listing the kids’ ideas for ‘do-s and don’t-s’ on how to speak to an ill person. It got a good conversation going, but firstborn was clearly finding it hard work.

 I googled furiously hoping for resources to ‘break it down into bite size chunks’. I didn’t find any resources – so here is a description of how I approached it. (At some point I should learn SEO so that someone else might find this when they are googling furiously trying to think of a plan!). 
I asked firstborn (a young teen) to brainstorm three sheets. The first sheet was different illnesses she knew, and how they might make you feel. The second was to answer the question of ‘Why do we treat ill people differently, and what happens if we don’t’. The third sheet was again asking for ‘do and don’t’ ideas, with explanations, that I wanted to make into a palm sized reference flick book for future use.

It was a bit of a struggle – very slow going – she didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on (thankfully being healthy). I’ve asked her to read ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ – and I might try to steer the next discussion into a bit of a book club kind of chat about the feelings of the characters arising from their illness.

I’d love any other ideas in the meantime for how to coach teens on the right things to say around illness. Ironically – she actually is good around seriously ill people – takes time for them, doesn’t flap and is appreciated. But she equally can come out with outrageously rude and insensitive statements that can cause serious offence.

Truthfully, though, I’m not sure any of us empathise with illness. We can be socially conditioned to behave correctly – but that is all it is. Pain is only remembered in reflection and only understood in experience. 

My parenting failures #516 – uncompetitive sport 

“If your family are slow to get going in the morning – why not turn things into a fun race?”

<bitter hollow laugh>
Squid’s brother was ( …  is … )  epically, hysterically competitive. In a world where ‘last one out is a rotten egg’ leads to screaming tantrums – a fun kick around at the park just didn’t happen. 

I never did manage to moderate his response. As soon as I got some traction on ‘winning and losing is part of the experience’ – I was facing violent vigilante behaviour at anyone not following the rules of the game.

Now I have marvellous older sons who have missed out on the civilising influence of sport and a little girl who has to win at everything. Any ideas for how to involve that kind of temperament in competitive sport?

Pony role models

Squid’s Dad found this excellent little activity book – which had a helpful page with each pony’s special friendship skills. She doesn’t know any of those words – but she knows all those ponies – so it was a nice hook to chat about what makes a good friend.

The great thing about doing ‘social skills’ through the ponies is that it is one step removed. There is no personal judgement of her or her behaviour – she can be the external observer with a birds-eye unemotive view of the ponies. And I’m hoping the theoretical lessons will translate into practical friendship skills. And the darn blighters are so cute it was a nice rainy-day activity in any case. 

Fake it until you make it

One of my big worries with the speech delay was how it would affect Junior’s social interactions. Two year olds are quite forgiving, three year olds less so; by four and five the single arched eyebrow of disdain starts to be observed. Junior’s speech might be coming on leaps and bounds – but farmyard animals and knowing your colours don’t count for so much when you’re trying to make a friend (or not alienate ones you’ve already got). 

This was a project from when she was three and in nursery. At that stage she was linking words towards three/four word sentences. Very weak on verbs, grammar and the little linking words – but a great mimic. We made a crib list of a handful of sentences that we felt would most help her social interactions and drilled her to fix them like incantations. From memory, the key ones were “do you want to play?” and “my turn next” / “your turn”. These supported her main social difficulties at that time: initiating a friendship appropriately and participating in a shared game without inevitably either taking over or withdrawing. 

Junior is 4 now, and I’ve gone back to coaching some ‘magic phrases’ at a higher level. She’s a terrible loser (and not a great winner). I can see this being a social handicap. She’ll win and run around crowing her victory; lose and crumple and stamp around. Now I’m coaching her to squeeze out a ‘good game’ handshake. And actually – when she congratulates her opponent – it takes the energy out of her losers-rage – because she recognises the games as the social dances they are, not as measures of her worth and success.

Think back to when you learned a language. Lots of vocabulary, grammar. Cringingly bad voice acting of teenagers on crackly recordings discussing how they plan to go to ‘le boum’ on the ‘fin de semaine’. Then you grow up, get a job, and get casually told that you’re flying out the following week to a critically important conference abroad. Only thing to do under that kind of pressure is to dump the ‘learning’ and start the ‘cramming’ – cutting away everything other than the most useful phrases. ‘Bonjour’; ‘Ou est TOILET’; ‘Je suis VEGETARIAN. Non poison VEGETARIAN. POISSSSON NON.’; ‘Trop cher. Je-ne-pas MONNAY.’. It’s patent hacked together nonsense – but it gives you enough to demonstrate willing to your hosts. Leverage enough social charm that someone might invite you to ‘le disco cette weekend?’.

Emoji cupcakes 

I don’t know why my baby didn’t speak. I do know that I didn’t keep her in a cupboard under the stairs – and so my working assumption is that it’s quite possible there are other factors ‘mixed’ in, which have led to her being slower to talk.

So, while she’s too small to screen for autism, and probably wouldn’t be ‘autistic enough’ to attract any real help in any case… but I think it doesn’t harm to keep that in mind as a possibility.


These cupcakes are part of that. I wanted to work on words for emotions, but also on recognising emotions. These cupcakes look quite glum – but most of them were happy! The faces are very easy – chocolate balls for eyes and mouths pressed with the edge of a cookie cutter. However – this activity has a high tantrum potential…. although they look a mess, the ones in the picture were largely made my an adult – and the activity ended up being the talking while eating the cakes. Good enough … yuh?