In life, there’s hardly a skill as important as the ability to empathize. Empathy is the ability to show true compassion, to understand another person’s experience, and to sympathize with their feelings. With empathy, we are better able to make decisions, not just for ourselves but also with others in mind.
As parents, we have a duty to teach our children how to empathize. An empathetic child is less likely to bully their classmates, and more likely to develop the emotional intelligence necessary to be successful and fulfilled in the workplace. With all of this in mind, here are 5 tips to teach empathy to your child.
Pounce on teaching opportunities: Life is full of situations in which we witness the emotional experience of another person, whether it be in a film or real life. These are perfect opportunities to involve your child in a conversation about another person’s experience. For instance, if a friend of your child had been crying, ask your child what they think is going on in their classmate’s life. Prompt them to reflect on the feelings of another person so that they start doing this habitually.
Demonstrate kindness yourself: Kids model their parents, so it’s vital that you demonstrate the kindness you want to see in them. For instance, if your child has something to say to you, listen intently and don’t interrupt. Repeat back what you heard to ensure that you understood the core of the message. By doing this, you show your child what it is to “step in someone else’s shoes” and demonstrate how to listen empathetically. And the more you demonstrate your own kindness, the more likely they will be to emulate that behavior.
Point out rude or disrespectful behavior: While it’s important to show kind behavior, you also want to point out when someone is acting rude, especially if your child is the one behaving insensitively. For example, if you catch your child being demanding of Grandma, ask them, “How do you think Grandma feels when you treat her like that? Do you mean to behave that way?” The point here is to make your child reflect on the impact of their actions on others, so they become more considerate as they grow older.
Model compassion: Your child is watching you, so show them what compassion looks like. Help your elderly neighbor with the chores they can no longer do alone. Show an understanding of your partner’s tough work situation. Send a get-well-soon card to an ill friend. The goal is to show that your thinking about more than just yourself.
Guide, don’t preach: Dictating what your child must do and think can have the opposite effect. Instead, follow the tips above to simply guide your child to consider another person’s emotions or viewpoint.
At this point in time, empathy is more important than ever. We hope these 5 tips will help you create a culture of empathy in your family that your child will learn and grow from.