There are people who think that empathy is an inborn trait rather than a teachable one. However, empathy is in fact something that can be taught and nurtured at any age. Here are a few simple, but effective techniques to teach your child empathy.
You don’t have to be a parent to know that empathy is a big deal in this world. Empathy helps us understand each other and allows us to relate on a deeper level. It requires us to step into someone else’s shoes, see things from their perspective and feel what they are feeling.
It’s also important for children, who are learning the skills of social interaction and how they can affect people around them. Teaching empathy isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either!
Talk about Emotions
It’s an unfortunate fact, but emotions are one of those elusive subjects that some parents never discuss with their children.
Even a child’s gender can effect the way some parents handle their emotions in their children. Phrases like “suck it up” and “stop crying” encourage children to repress their emotions.
Instead, taking the time to help children define the different types of emotions can help them express these emotions in words, actions and expressions. It helps them understand emotions better, and develop their empathy skills toward others.
Watch Movies Together
Watching a movie together may seem counter productive, but movies are part of the arts, and can add tons of perspective to children.
Watching dramatic and emotional situations are great learning opportunities. While watching the show, notice important events that occur and make mental notes to discus these events afterward.
You can discuss the show and the situation and the emotional implications the characters must have had.
If your child isn’t very receptive, you can discuss these things in front of them with your spouse or a friend.
This can help them see the importance of identifying others emotions. It also shows them you are a safe place to open up and discuss their own emotions, since you display the ability to talk about your feelings.
Reading Regularly Together
Start reading to your children as often as possible. Daily if you can manage the time.
Even 15 minutes of reading stories about other people and their lives can help develop empathy from an early age.
Make it a point to discuss the characters and talk about what emotions they may have been feeling. Ask your child
- How do you think they were feeling?
- What makes you think they felt that way?
- How did this story make you feel?
From here you can encourage them to describe their emotions and let them know how the story made you feel.
The constant talking about feelings helps your kids see that discussing feels is a normal, everyday occurrence.
Volunteering with your child is a great way to help build your child’s character and develop their empathy.
Helping those who are less fortunate shows them how good it can feel to make a difference in other peoples lives.
Why not go to an animal shelter together and help clean out cages, play with the kittens and walk the dogs who aren’t getting very much attention.
Talk about why it’s so important to care for others outside of ourselves.
Try a local soup kitchen and serve food and a smile to those who are hungry.
Or you can talk to your children about gathering up stuff you don’t need or use anymore to donate to the less fortunate.
While you are doing all of this, talk about how and why everyone doesn’t live the same and what they can do to make a difference.
Talk about Feelings
Whenever any kind of event happens, find a way to discuss feelings with your child. You can start by talking about how you feel about the current evens happening around the world.
Say age appropriate, but even the youngest echildren will see things on the news that they don’t yet understand.
Talking about the hard situations won’t make it worse, but ignoring it can.
For example, when September 11th happened, many young children where exposed to watching the event on repeat for days following the incident.
Talking to them about the situation could let them know it wasn’t still happening. That it’s ok to feel sad and scared. That many around the world were experiencing the same emotions.
Live as an Example
You can be the best or worst role model for your children. Either way they look up to you, and will be mimicking you.
Let your children see how empathetic you are to your friends, your significant other, to them and even to people you don’t know.
You can show sadness with your tears when a tragedy happens far away in another country. Show your joy when when watching someone else win.
Don’t hide these emotions from them. They need to see that feeling and being an emotional being is part of being human.
They’re not too young to start learning about the world.
Realizing they are but a small piece of the universe actually teaches children a lot more than making them feel as if they’re the center of the world.
Speak Up for Those Who Can’t
Another way to show empathy to children, is to speak up for people who can’t. Even
For example, if you are at the grocery store and someone is using EBT (welfare) to pay for food and other people are being rude about it, defend the person by talking to them nicely, and ignoring the rude people.
You can do the same for many situations that come up. As long as you’re not putting yourself or your child in danger speaking up for people who can’t is always a good thing.
The most important thing you can do of course is to model the behavior that you want your children to learn.
If you want them to care about other people’s feelings show them that you care about their feelings and teach them to care about your feelings.
When children experience empathy they’re a lot more likely to demonstrate empathy to others.