Teaching Empathy by Lori Ramsey
Teaching children empathy helps to build good character. Empathy is the ability to both share and understand in others’ feelings. It starts with self-awareness and in distinguishing the feelings of self separate from the feelings of others. Empathy moves on to the ability to put yourself in the other’s shoes so you can feel from their perspective. Empathy is knowing your own feelings and learning how to experience what the others may feel. Teaching children to do this properly should start at a young age.
Meet Your Child’s Emotional Needs – Lead by Example
A truly empathetic person is one who can rest secured in the emotional health they receive from their family. You do this by example. You care for your child. You empathize with your child. You offer help when they experience emotional or physical distress.
Encourage Your Child to Think Through Things
As parents, it may be too easy to take care of things without talking it out with the child. You need to talk with your child about their feelings and help to steer them to the correct way of processing thoughts. In other words, your child has a mind, let them use their mind. Talk through their distresses and help them to understand why they experience the emotions the way they do. Help them to take on better thought patterns that will help create a kind and caring character.
Opportunities to Empathize
Every day your child will face situations in which they can empathize. When a child faces a situation where they don’t have a pleasant encounter, use the opportunity to teach them empathy. Encourage them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. Dig deep with this, when children encounter other children who they don’t like, or who are a bully or mean spirited, have them look for the under lying reason behind it.
Teach Through Reading
Have your child read the literary classics (stories you know well) and have a conversation about the characters. Help them to identify moments of empathy within the stories. Ask them why characters thought and did the things they did. This helps children to look beyond the surface of a person and into the why they react the way they do.
Teach Children to Show Empathy As a Sense of Morality
Not everything should come with a reward, or a demerit. Common sense and morality should be what children use when exercising self-control. If you teach a child right from wrong, they should be able to pass this along to others through their empathy. Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Good character means being moral and doing right even if they don’t receive applause, recognition, or a reward.
Kindness Trumps All
A child who is kind to others regardless of how the others treat them is a child who can empathize well. This goes well with the “walk in the other person’s shoes” scenario. If your child can understand why the mean kid at school is acting mean, they can show kindness, and it helps them to be understanding. Perhaps the mean kid has an alcoholic parent and had to endure abuse the night before, or any other reason. A pet died, a sick loved one, a parent who doesn’t know how to give good emotional support. It costs nothing to be kind despite the situation.