Teaching Empathy is a parenting skill every parent should want to teach their kids. Empathic children seem to uncannily identify with, feel or understand another’s pain or distress. Empathic babies often become agitated when hearing another baby cry in a nursery. Toddlers who identify with another child’s frustrations will act out that frustration also. Empathic teens want to help those in need and champion the underdog.
by Dr. Caron Goode
Empathic children seem to uncannily identify with, feel or understand another’s pain or distress. Empathic babies often become agitated when hearing another baby cry in a nursery. Toddlers who identify with another child’s frustrations will act out that frustration also. Empathic teens want to help those in need and champion the underdog. As parents of small children, teaching kids empathy should be a priority in helping to develop an emotionally well-adjusted child.
What is empathy? In emotional intelligence terms, the skill of empathizing means that one
- is aware of another’s feeling,
- can feel the same emotion if younger in years, and
- use words to name the emotion when older.
Empathic children seem motivated to help ease discomfort or placate distress. Sensitive children seem to develop empathy as a character trait of their personal style while others have to be trained in the skills through role playing or stories in which the character appeals to the young reader. Here are other playful suggestions to help children identify the feeling of empathy. Comparing and contrasting emotions helps differentiate how feelings.
Mirror Games are an interactive, fun way to help children identify empathy. Pick a situation that is easy for your child to empathize with, and that lends itself to several emotions. Stand in front of the mirror with your child and get the game started by making a funny face for her. Then say let’s play pretend. Pretend Grandma sent you a surprise package. You open it and inside is a beautiful baby doll. How would your face look when you saw your surprise? What does that look say? Does it say you are happy? Now pretend that beautiful baby doll’s face is broken. How does the baby doll feel? Does she hurt? Does it make you sad too? What if I said we can fix the doll so she looks as good as new? What would your face look like then? Is that a happy face?
Play Acting is another way of creatively identifying emotions. It combines elements of two childhood favorites, pretend and dress up. Involve your child in dress up and have her invent a character. Then the two of you can make up a story where her character displays a real life situation to elicit empathy as well as problem solving what help or appropriate actions might be. You can further the story by using prompting questions like: What did the dragon look like after she scored the winning goal in her soccer game? How did she feel when her she fell to the ground? How did she look when the referee said the goal was no good? What did she do when he changed his mind and her team did win after all?
Storytelling is an activity most children enjoy, and a good way to help them identify empathy. While reading or telling your child a story, stop and ask questions about how the character is feeling. You can ask your child how she would feel if she were that person. You can also ask if she would handle things differently. If so, how would the emotions and the outcome change?
Using play is one of the best ways to teach children. When they are having fun, they easily absorb and retain information. By teaching your children how to express their empathic feelings, you are teaching them how to communicate as well as identify an appropriate response. Once learned, this skill makes it easier for children to successfully connect with others.
Caron’s entrepreneurial fun takes place at the Academy for Coaching Parents International which provides training and certification for students to operate Parent Coaching businesses. As a mother and stepmother, Caron knows firsthand the importance of parenting skills and that nurturing children with joy, common sense, and connectedness enriches and benefits both parent and child. Her newest book is Help Kids Cope with Stress
and Trauma. Her expertise has made her a frequent media expert and her work has appeared in Colorado Parent, Convergence, The Joyful Child, Energy, Black Family Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens. She and her husband Tom Goode, ND, live in Ft. Worth Texas.
Post Doctoral Work: (1996-1998) Institute of Transpersonal Psychology; focus on Women’s Psychology and on Wellness
Doctorate of Education: (1979-1983) The George Washington University, My degree is in Counseling Psychology, with the major, Human Development and Leadership and a minor in Special Education.
Masters of Communication: (1972-73) Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio TX. Major was language and minor was learning disabilities.
Bachelor of Science: (1971) Oklahoma University of Liberal Arts, Major was Speech Therapy and Deaf Education.
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