6 Strategies To Help Your Child Develop Empathy

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I know we all love our children… but, let’s face it…. kids are pretty selfish beings. They are the center of their universe and are born with the notion that everyone exists to serve, care for and entertain them.

This is just human nature and its natural from infancy through toddlerhood.

We actually want them to focus on their little selves those first few years as they learn how to navigate the world that is relatively new to them. That’s a tough gig!

This egocentrism doesn’t tend to subside until around the age of 8, and even then compassion and care for others has to be developed so that they don’t end up like :

 

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Now, this isn’t to say that kids do not show empathy. I am sure we have all seen sweet toddlers put their arm around a crying friend.

6 ways to help your child develop and cultivate empathy towards others

However, it certainly does not come naturally. Empathy has to be learned and developed. 

The ability to understand the feelings of others is an integral quality that helps us develop healthy and fulfilling relationships and social connections.

The ability to understand the feelings of others is an integral quality that helps us develop healthy and fulfilling relationships and social connections. Click To Tweet

When is the right time to start teaching our kids empathy? How should we do it? Is the occasional lecture about the importance of the skill enough? Are there some more creative ways to help them understand?  

Fortunately, even though it is a learned behavior, your child is born with the capacity for empathy.

 It’s simply up to parents to recognize this capacity and cultivate it in their children. 

Here are 6 ways to help your child develop and cultivate empathy towards others:

Teach them about emotions

Everyone has varying levels of emotional intelligence. This is our ability to understand, recognize and manage our own emotions as well as the emotions of others. 

A child cannot empathize with feelings they can’t explain. By pointing out and naming emotions you assume your child is feeling, and the ones you’re feeling as well, you will stimulate the development of emotional intelligence.

Model Empathy

Children learn how to navigate the world by watching us.

That’s a humbling thought.

So, in order to help them develop empathy…we have to practice it ourselves.

Let your children witness you caring for others. Talk about everyday situations, or use situations they may read about in books or see on television as talking points.

Ask them what the main character or person in distress may be feeling and experiencing. By doing this little exercise, you are guiding them to take a pause and think about other people’s emotions.

So, think twice the next time someone cuts you off on the highlight or your waitress may be a bit off. They could all be having just a rough day…and your kids are watching to see how you react.

Action Step: A simple way to start modeling empathy is to just make sure you ask thoughtful questions that require open answers. For example, ” What is the best thing that happened to you today?” offers an opportunity for a child to share with you an experience while you intently listen. We love using Table Topics to spark conversation at dinner

Inspire curiosity to explore the familiar…and unfamiliar.  

Children naturally are able to evoke more empathy for those with similar traits or characteristics that are familiar with them. 

To prevent this natural and innocent bias of childhood from turning into harmful and destructive prejudice in adulthood… point out similar characteristics that they have with others, while also allowing them to meet people from different backgrounds so they can hear their stories and identify with them.

 

Help Children Put Themselves In Someone Else’s Shoes

Empathy is not just “sharing emotion.” That’s more like the definition of compassion. 

A key component of empathy is the ability to really share the perspective of someone else and see a situation through their eyes.

When reading a story, focus on the hero’s emotions. Use stuffed animals to action figures to role-play some of the scenarios to help them think through common challenges where they may need to show empathy to someone else.

Book Recommendations To Teach Your Child About Feelings

Help your child recognize body language and expressions

I don’t hide my emotions well. They are written all over my face and I usually think it’s pretty obvious. For many adults, facial expressions are. Not so much for kids.

Toddlerhood is a great time to learn to recognize facial expressions. Show your child some pictures of people expressing different emotions and help them decipher between tired, angry, happy, sad, etc.

Talk after a conflict

Every family experiences conflict and tense moments. 

Don’t hide behind them. After the situation has passed, explain what you were feeling. 

“I am sorry I snapped at you. I was frustrated and tired.” 

” It’s frustrating when your sister grabs your toy. Why do you think she did that?”

Talking about emotions after the fact helps your child develop empathy, and feel confident in communicating about their feelings. 

It’s tough to want to de-brief after a conflict, especially when they are not your proudest moment. But, ultimately, put them to good use by using the experience as a tool for learning and growing. 

We all want our kids to grow up to be caring, compassionate and empathetic adults. That’s how the world gets better! It all starts now with small steps of teaching them to accept, seek to understand and love others as much as themselves.

Additional Resources

#Empathy has to be learned and developed. Here are 6 ways to help your child develop and cultivate empathy towards others. #parenting #parentingtips

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