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This guest post was written by Claire Adams, a personal and professional development expert who believes that positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can find her online writing and giving tips about lifestyle and development as a regular contributor to highstylife.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Among a whole spectrum of skills we wish to pass on to our kids, empathy often falls through the cracks. However, this particular emotional capacity to step into someone else’s shoes and share their feelings is not inherent but acquired, and parents play a pivotal role in how well their little ones will develop their tendency to be compassionate.
It’s a skill that many adults fail to express in certain circumstances, and it lies at the core of moral values and behavioral patterns based on kindness and understanding towards others. Due to its elusive and complex nature, parents often encounter issues when trying to teach it to their children, but the following activities can make learning empathy a natural process both for you and your kids.
Be Mindful Of Your Children’s Minds
The sooner you begin talking to your child as a developing individual with more than mere physical motivators, the better your chances are of building their empathy. Studies have shown that benefits of this parenting style span from stronger positive attachment to increasing their grasp of others’ emotional states.
From mirroring your kids’ behavior and reactions when they are infants and all the way to openly talking about other people’s emotions, as well as their own, helps them gaze deeper into the inner workings of their mind. Kids are curious, and they will gladly absorb these talks, especially when they still lack the ability to fully understand an unpleasant situation.
Many parents who work from home might be overwhelmed, hence miss the moment when their kids need this talk, so it’s best to keep your eyes open for a conversation opportunity and spare a few minutes for a valuable life lesson.
Enable Diverse Learning Environments
Your home is the primary source of learning for your kids, so it makes sense that you are their role model and an example of how they should treat others and where they will pick up various skills for managing their emotions. However, empathy is a social experience in its essence, and it requires consistent communication with others, their peers and teachers included.
That is why more child care institutions strive to include emotional intelligence-oriented activities to foster interpersonal communication among the children attending their classes. For instance, some child care centers focus on tasks that foster a sense of self and a better understanding of others, as well as social situations with their peers where they can express empathy.
It’s essential to provide your kids with multiple environments that inspire and teach empathy especially while they are still malleable, as they will form their behavior based on numerous social situations they encounter.
Play The Cheer-Up Game
Games are non-intrusive ways to steer your kids’ attention towards what others feel. You can spend some time with your kids in the park observing others’ behavior, or read an image-rich book – this way you can ask your kids to explain and guess what these people could be feeling and help them understand non-verbal expressions better at the same time.
Get creative and include siblings and friends for a cheer-up game. Kids can draw faces expressing different feelings, then act them out to talk about the causes of their emotions and suitable solutions for each other. Next time they actually witness someone in distress, they will likely have the knowledge to help them and express empathy.
Nurture Respect And Acceptance
Without the intention to be cruel or inappropriate, kids might ask a direct and seemingly awkward question when they notice someone different from them – be that a person missing a limb or in a wheelchair. Instead of shushing them, which might be your initial instinct as a means to protect this person from embarrassment, approach the topic with transparency. If the situation allows it, introduce the person to your child.
You can both provide the explanation and help the child understand that they have much more in common with this person than it may seem. This is also an opportunity for a follow-up conversation to talk to your kids about different types of disabilities. You can also teach them about bullying and the importance of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. These are all opportunities to foster your child’s kindness toward others and imbue them with respect instead of pity.
Be A Role Model And Include Your Kids
Charitable actions and acts of kindness will show your children that doing good is a positive quality they can also participate in. Try bringing them with you the next time you are volunteering. Let them participate and be sure to praise them for their thoughtfulness.
They can give away their allowance to a cause of their choice, and you can teach them about their peers who have contributed with similar acts of goodwill. You can achieve a similar effect if you encourage them to think of others when they would naturally think of their own needs, such as when they ask for treats in a store. Ask them something along the lines of: “We can get you that chocolate, but do you think that your brother would like one, too?”
For kids growing up in the modern world surrounded by images of violence through television and games, teaching them emotional literacy and nurturing their empathy is ever so important. Every day is yet another opportunity for them to care for others.
When they learn to cope with their own emotions, manage distress, and feel secure and loved at home, they are more likely to keep an open mind towards the needs of those around them. So let’s help our kids grow up into caring, loving beings that will continue the legacy of compassion for years to come.
How do you encourage your kids to be empathetic?