In this month’s article, Thrive Counseling will explain ten great ways to teach your child empathy. In order to begin, let’s clarify. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else. Let’s not confuse empathy with sympathy, though sympathy is another good quality you might find in a well-rounded person. Empathy is a personal understanding of emotions from another. Parents, to teach your child how to show empathy, one: allow your kid to express all emotions (even the negative ones). In homes where emotions are shut down, a child will never be able to truly experience the emotion of sorrow or sadness, grief. It is important to let them experience even the positive emotions: surprise, excitement, happiness. If they are not aware of how those emotions feel themselves, how are they to empathize with a friend who is going through a similar situation? Two: it is a good idea to respond to your child’s “boo boos” with empathy. Even the small ones. Showing that you care about their scrape or cut will make them feel loved and nurtured. They will, in turn, do this for a friend, sibling – even you. Three: surely, by the time your child can tell you what they are feeling, you can pretty much judge for yourself. You may be able to tell that they are angry or upset. Identify with these feelings. Identify with their emotions. Four: label your own emotions. Identify your sad, your angry, your excited. Five: point out the emotions of other people. Show your child the facial expressions and body language of someone who is really happy. Let them try to grasp that image. Do it with a sad person and an angry person. Six: use his or her story time as an opportunity to practice empathy. Maybe read them their favorite book, and then swap stories about “a time when…”, and let them try to relate – empathize. Seven: model empathy through play. When playing dolly with your daughter, try to set the scene to show empathy. “I know how dolly feels. I’ve been excited about going swimming, too!” Eight: practice yourself. Try to place yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try to understand where they are coming from. You can’t teach empathy well if you don’t have the ability to relate yourself. Nine: suggest that your kid “think out loud” to identify other’s behavior. Have them make positive remarks on their observations. And ten: help your child make amends. Have your child try to understand that if they’ve done wrong, they must be held accountable and should apologize. Try to have them see themselves in the other person’s shoes. Ask them how it would make them feel if that were them.
The sooner children are taught empathy, the stronger their ability will be as they grow. Empathy is a great quality that will positively enable your child in so many social situations: school, sports teams, friends. They will be the better for it!!