5 Ways to Teach Children Empathy
By Caron C. Andrews and Amanda Scott
What is empathy and why is it important to cultivate it in our children? Empathy is being able to recognize and understand another person’s feelings and experiences. Being empathetic is important because it’s a cornerstone in loving, healthy relationships and in being compassionate. It’s key to understanding the dynamics of all kinds of relationships and to not being self-centered. It’s a foundation for building self-worth and emotional intimacy with others. People have varying degrees of natural empathy, but there are essential ways you can teach it to your kids.
- Consider others’ motivations. It can be easy to take someone’s behavior toward you at face value, but so many times, other unseen factors are influential. When your kids complain about a friend’s rude or hurtful behavior, help steer them toward looking past the surface into why the person may have acted that way, especially if the behavior was out of character. Maybe the person had just been chastised by a teacher or had an argument with a sibling. (Rothenberg, n.d.)
- Make sure you are meeting your children’s emotional needs. If your children are secure in getting their emotional needs met, they will be more able to develop empathy for others. Kids whose parents help them handle their negative emotions are also more likely to be empathic with others (Dewar, n.d.). Talk with your kids about their emotions, their perspectives, and their needs. Be available for them and be dependable.
- What do you have in common? When your children have things in common with other people, they are more readily able to understand and sympathize with them and their situations (Dewar, n.d.). If your child is reacting judgmentally to another person, help him think about aspects of that person he can understand and relate to, as well as thinking about why the person may have acted the way he did. This process makes your child see the person as a human being rather than a one-dimensional object.
- Call them on their bad behavior. If your children do something rude or mean to you, call them on it. Tell them that you don’t like that behavior from anyone, not just them, which lets them know that it doesn’t have to do with them personally (Rothenberg, n.d.). Setting limits in this way helps your children understand the effects of their behavior on others.
- Other points of view. Reading books or watching television programs are a great way to look at other people’s perspectives. You can talk with your kids about how the characters feel, what they want, and what they think, and how we know. In this way, your children can learn about other ways of thinking and perceiving the world (Dewar, n.d.). They will learn to think outside their own views and comfort zone, which will make them more able to empathize with other people.
Helping your children grow empathy will help them to be more caring about themselves, other people, and the world. It will take them out of themselves and teach them real compassion for others.
See our new book 30 Days to a Stronger Child to find lessons related to this topic and learn ways and activities to help your child be stronger!
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