News Flash: All Children Really ARE Special!
Empathy is often misinterpreted. When blamed for a generation of parents refusing to enforce limits with their children, Dr. Benjamin Spock bewailed that his empathic parenting advice was simply misunderstood. "I have never advocated permissive anything," he said,
The result of the misapplication of empathic teaching and the self-esteem building ideas? American children excel at feeling excellent but, unfortunately, not at being excellent.
However, empathic teaching (and empathic parenting) is not at fault. Larding a child with praise to the point where a child feels rewarded for having done nothing at all is not a tenet of the "self-esteem" movement. Rather empathic teaching is about helping children discover, even in small increments, that which is special and unique about them.
True, not every child is a great mathematician, or a great athlete, but neither does every child have a kind and compassionate nature. In school, perhaps even in life, one's uniqueness, well developed, is essentially no better or no worse that any other uniqueness well developed. It's my opinion, of course, but from where I sit, any parent (or teacher) not willing to help their child discover what is special about them would be a pretty piss poor parent or teacher indeed.