Empathy is a key skill that every child needs to create and maintain positive relationships with others. It helps to reduce conflict, while also promoting helpful and kind behaviors. Like any skill, empathy can be gradually developed in children. And in these uncertain times, empathy is a vital skill that will better prepare your child for any future obstacles they may face. So what are ways to teach your child empathy? Read on to find out some strategies to cultivate this value in your child.
Children are like sponges — they soak up a vast amount of information from the people closest to them. Their development starts with what they see in their immediate environment, which is why it’s important to begin their education with effective modeling. Children learn empathy best by watching us, as well as experiencing our empathy for them. When you have strong, respectful relationships with others, and interact in an empathetic manner, your child will eventually pick up the same behaviors.
When our child is feeling angry, upset, or disappointed, we tend to try and fix it right away. It can come from your desire to protect them from difficult and painful experiences. However, going through these feelings is a part of life, and learning how to cope with them will help children understand the concept of empathy.
Labeling and validating feelings will help children understand how to handle conflict in productive ways. For example: “You’re really upset that I confiscated your tablet, and I understand why you feel that way. When you’re ready, we can talk about why I needed to take it.” In this situation, we label their difficult feelings, validate their reaction, and offer conflict resolution. This type of approach helps children understand how to empathize with others and how to settle a disagreement.
Empathy is a skill that needs lots of nurturing. Help your child practice empathy, and guide these learning opportunities. Regularly consider other people’s perspectives to help set empathy as a natural reflex for them. Through trial and error, your child will become better at understanding others.
One way to do this is to remind your child to consider the other person’s perspective during misunderstandings with friends. Ask them why they think an issue occurred, and what their friend might be feeling about it. You can also reflect regularly on examples of empathy. When you’re with your child, point out the nice things that are happening around them, and point out examples when another person practiced empathy for others. This is a good way to teach them why these acts are so important for relationships.
We often talk about empathy as if it’s a finite resource. For example, we talk about children having ‘a lot’ or ‘too little’ empathy. Yet, every child has the capacity for empathy. The issue here is not about how much they have, it’s who they currently practice empathy for.
For most of us, it’s not hard to have empathy for our loved ones. But as parents and caretakers, we must encourage our children to have empathy for people from all walks of life. To do so, we should show them the experiences of different people. Multicultural learning is one way to do so, another way is through relevant media (such as books, movies, etc.) We should emphasize being empathetic for everyone, especially those who may be facing challenges very different from their own.
Developing empathy takes time and effort. Your child probably won’t be perfectly empathetic until they’re much older. However, knowing the right ways to teach your child empathy can help them develop this necessary skill. Their ability to understand others and respond with kindness is a life skill that can help them properly navigate these uncertain times.