Teaching kids to be polite is nice, in addition it is important to teach them empathy. Empathy involves teaching them to put themselves in the position of another. History reveals tragic acts and hurtful words between individuals and countries where empathy never surfaced as part of the resolution. Today, we witness that same kind of lack of empathy with name calling, bullying, and selfish behaviors that keep us from understanding one another. If we operate in empathy and teach our kids to do the same, we contribute to building characters that are compassionate, thoughtful, and have the potential for greater triumphs. In the following paragraphs, I want to share some key points to focus your teaching.
Start Empathy Early
Erickson states that in early childhood children began to assert their own will. Some call it the terrible twos. Although younger children may not fully understand empathy talking about feelings is a good place to start. Pictures that show sad and happy faces may assist with helping them distinguish how someone feels. Allow them to express their feelings the best they can. Always talk to them and let them know you are there for them. As children age and are able to understand more, broaden your teaching of empathy.
Parents are the primary role models for their children. Children are watching and listening even when we think they are not. A Common statement you probably heard from an adult is, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” I believe the intention with the statement is to deter children from any negative behavior they might witness. This is not an effective way to model empathy. As parents and adults who engage with children, we must show them the best examples of modeling empathy. The media provides enough of the negative demonstration. It is our responsibility to show them the peaceful side.
The Empathy Perspective
If you believe we are all unique individuals, then you must know there will be times when we will see things differently. Have discussions with your child about how they feel about specific things. Get them used to voicing their feelings and concerns. In addition, teach them how to see things from someone else’s perspective. This can be taught through modeling or real-life scenarios with something they might have experienced. Older children will have a better time understanding other’s perspective, this may be too complex for younger children. A key piece to remember related to seeing another’s perspective doesn’t mean you will agree. The chance at looking through different lenses will allow you to see how unique each of us are.
Listening to Understand
When someone voices their hurt it is not the time to tell them why they should not be hurt. Teach kids the way to show your concern is to actively listen. Listen to understand why they feel the way they do, not to condemn or find wrong. The act of empathy seeks to engage, connect and bring people together. We may not always agree on every issue. With this in mind, we listen to understand. This keeps the lines of communication open.
Learning about others and how they feel is important. I have suggested some ways to teach children empathy to get you started. By all means research other ways that are helpful. I feel empathy is a big issue in society today. As the next generation matures, I would love to see them connect in a new way. A way that demonstrates they empathize with each other, wouldn’t you?