Teaching Kids EmpathyAug 25, 2017
We all know kids can be selfish and self-absorbed. Kids don't come into this world with empathy. What is empathy? It's putting yourself in someone else's shoes, knowing how they feel, and acting accordingly. Not only that, having empathy is also a crucial building block for other caring emotions like gratitude, and compassion (which is acting on your empathy). Kids as young as 18 months can pick up on others' emotions. And at around age 4, they start to think about others' feelings in relation to their own. Some of this can occur naturally, but as a parent, you can make efforts in promoting empathy-boosting experiences for your children.
Here are some tips:
1. Model empathy - If someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of yelling at them, say something like, "I wonder how it feels to be that busy that you don't have time to be courteous to others."
2. Be consistent - Don't just be empathetic in public - be empathetic at home, too. If your child is acting up because they want more screen time, don't yell at them, be firm and calm. Tell them, "I know you're frustrated because you can't have more screen time. Our rules are one hour of screen time on weekdays."
3. When your child is being kind or generous with a friend or family member, recognize and praise him or her! This lets them know that being kind and generous gets you positive attention. However, don't just let it be about getting praise - make sure to ask them how they feel about doing nice things for others. This will help them recognize that it makes them feel good, thus giving them intrinsic rewards, not just extrinsic.
4. Help your child name his or her emotions: sad, happy, excited, etc. Then, for the non-positive ones, figure out ways to get through feeling down. For example, come up with a list of what to do when your child is feeling sad. This list may include listening to upbeat music, drawing, or simply spending time in nature.
5. Volunteer. Show kids that not everyone is as lucky as they are, and not everyone has a comfortable home and food to eat everyday the way they do. Monthly or seasonal volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen can give them an attitude of gratitude for what they have, and empathy and compassion for others.
What about you? What tips do you have to build empathy in kids?