5 Easy Ways to Teach Your Children Empathy
Being able to experience empathy, the ability to mentally put ourselves in the position of another person and feel what they must be feeling, is central to being able to express our love for others. It’s what drives us to help loved ones in need and volunteer our time and talents for good causes. The fact that bullying seems to be a persistent problem in schools is a telltale sign that parents need more help raising empathic children. How do we teach empathy? Below are five easy things you can do on a regular basis to raise an empathic child. Children who can access their empathy grow into adults who are able to reach out to the world in a more natural and effortless way with their love.
1. Comfort: All children, but especially when they’re very young, learn to self-regulate their emotions and mitigate their own upset by the physical comfort and care they receive from their parents. Never leave a child just cry himself to sleep. If he doesn’t learn how to comfort his own pain from you, he won’t be able to reach out to others to comfort theirs.
2. Modeling: Children are imitators by nature. They learn everything, including how to walk, from watching us. Take every opportunity for your child to see you interacting in an empathic way with others. Be quick to hold the door open for the elderly woman using a walker who’s entering the store in front of you. Bake a lasagna and take it to your neighbor who just got out of the hospital and can’t stand long enough to cook. Ask a child who fell off the swing at the playground if she’s all right.
3. Imagination: If you see an elderly or handicapped person, engage your child in a dialogue about their struggles. Talk about how difficult it must be for an older man to cross the street with a bag of groceries while trying to manage his cane at the same time. Point out that a child in a wheelchair might miss playing soccer and encourage your child to be thankful that he can walk. Short exchanges like these lead your child to use his imagination to put himself in the position of others with struggles.
4. Outings: Take your child to the local nursing home to hand out small gifts to residents who have no visitors during the holidays. Seek out volunteer opportunities to help sick animals at a rescue foundation.
5. Literature: Use your child’s favorite books to start a dialogue about how certain characters might feel who are experiencing problems. Ask your child how it might feel to have his house blown down by a Big Bad Wolf and what other problems might occur from having no place to live.
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