Many people believe that kids are born with empathy. However, this is not the case. Empathy and compassion take time to develop, and teaching your kids to be empathetic can greatly impact their lives. In this blog post, we will discuss five ways you can teach kids empathy.
What is Empathy?
Empathy means understanding and sharing another person's thoughts and feelings. Empathy is a central part of emotional intelligence, which involves recognising other people's emotions, taking on perspectives from others, and considering how to respond in a caring way.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy because sympathizing may mean feeling sorry for another person. On the other hand, empathy means connecting with another person and validating their feelings without lowering your expectations of the other person.
Some kids are born with empathy, while others learn it throughout life. Some kids might need extra help when it comes to empathizing with others.
Why is Teaching Empathy Important?
Teaching empathy to kids is important because it helps them to be kind and considerate towards others. Children who are empathic tend to have better relationships with their parents, friends, peers, and teachers. Empathy also sets the stage for pro-social behavior (behavior that benefits society). Practicing empathy can help kids understand how to treat others and prevent bullying in schools or conflicts between sibliings. Researches show the importance of teaching empathy; psychologist like Daniel Goleman, PhD believes that if we teach our students about perspective-taking skills such as perspective-shifting (imagining what other people think), perspective switching (changing your point-of-view), and mentalizing (thinking about what a person may be thinking or feeling), it will help them to enhance their focus, persistence, delay gratification and self-calm.
How to Teach Kids Empathy
1. Be a Role Model
Observing and copying people around them is how kids learn. Your actions and words will help your child to understand what empathetic behavior looks like. As obvious as it may seem, it's essential; if a parent does not have model empathy herself, how can she teach her children?
Take the time to assess your relationships and interactions with other people. These questions may help guide you to practice empathy yourself.
- Do you maintain warm and caring relationships?
Within your home, take time to talk with your husband and kids. Try to get to know your family and establish a strong connection with them through honest conversations and playful moments.
Stay in touch with your loved ones. Check how they are doing and show support through kind and understanding words.
- How do you respond to mistakes and shortcomings?
It's quite easy to show empathy when people are joyful. However, how do you react when problems arise, or mistakes happen? First, be patient with others' mistakes or misbehaviors. It would help if you remain calm in frustrating situations, so you don't add stress to the mix. Second, show respect when correcting kids -- including older teens-- even though they might not always agree with you or respond well at first (that doesn't mean you're doing something wrong).
- How do you talk with other people?
Are your arms crossed when you talk? Is your face tensed or relaxed? Is your voice calm? Your kids can easily pick up your words, tone, facial expression, and body language. Be mindful of your actions because children most likely act and speak as you do. Your actions speak volumes , and your kids may overlook your words when your actions conflict with what you say.
2. Grab books that talk about empathy and emotions.
Reading books about emotions is one of the easiest wasy to help your child understand and feel empathy. Here are some books you can include in your booklist
- I Am Happy: A Touch and Feel Book of Feeling by Steve Light
- The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
- My Heart by Corinna Luyken
- Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson PhD
- Empathy is Your Superpower: A Book About Understanding Feelings of Others by Cori Bussolari PsyD
Discuss the story with your child after you have read the books together. You can ask your child what he thinks the characters feel. You can also talk about how he can apply the learnings he had from the story.
3. Don't rush it!
Adults tend to unconsciously dismiss the children's emotions by fixing the problem, telling them it is not a big deal, or asking them to move on immediately. While parents and caregivers have the best intentions for the kids, it may invalidate their feelings.
Next time your child feels upset, sad, frustrated, or angry, speak calmly and label the feelings. For example, you may say, "You seem angry because your brother grabbed your toy." Then, engage your child in a conversation to help them calm down and understand her feelings as well.
4. Provide the opportunity to practice empathy.
As mentioned earlier, empathy can be taught and learned over time, but it needs support and nurturing. Empathy starts at home, and here are practical ways you can give your child the opportunity to see empathy in motion:
- Talk as a family. You can carve out a special time for you and your family members to talk or use meal times to have conversations. You can all discuss the highs and lows of your days, the challenges, and the conflicts in your talk. Encourage the kids to share their views and reactions and seeing things from the perspective of the other family members.
- Promote empathy for peers. Ask your child about his classmates, teammate, and other peers. In case there are conflicts, encourage your child to see the situation from the perspective of his peers.
- Teach the importance of empathy. Observe your child's empathy level based on how he react to the books he read, movies he watch, or the relationship he maintains. Then, talk about the importance of empathy to your child.
- Allow your child to talk about his dilemmas. Even kids face situations that make them doubt their actions and decisions. It can be as simple as deciding whether to invite another classmate that his best friend hates to his birthday party or complicated as telling a teacher he knows someone who cheated in an exam.
- Expose the child to the problems of the community. Letting the child volunteer in communities can help the child see the different struggles and challenges outside his home. As a result, he can get a fresh perspective and better understanding of what other people is going through.
5. Educate your kids on how to manage their strong emotions.
It is difficult for a child to practice empathy when he is experiencing big emotions. And so, it is essential to give them the tools to help them regulate their emotions. You can read more about self-regulation in our blog post, How to Teach Kids to Self-Regulate Emotions.
Not everyome is born empathic. But by giving our kids the support and opportunity to learn and practice empathy, our kids can practice empathy and nurture healthy relationships.
Did you find this blog post helpful? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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