Empathy is the sole important thing in our society. You may be thinking that compassion is not a trait to be learned, but something we are either born with, or we are not.
There is a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela that illustrates this: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotions others are feeling, to care for other people, and to be able to put yourself into the perspective of another individual.
Indeed, some people are more empathic naturally than others, but it is common that people have different levels of empathy throughout the whole population.
It is the same with children. As kids get older, their ability to understand different perspectives will improve, especially if they can get enough practice. Be it with their peers, their families, or various games and toys they play with. Some fantastic toys are being made with the specific intent to help a child’s empathic abilities. To find out more, check out BornCute.
With time, Children will learn the social norms and why they should follow them, but they will also understand their emotional responses better, which will cause them to care for other people’s emotions, too.
But they do not have to go through this journey alone. Your support can be of significant benefit to your child’s understanding of the emotions other people have. Here are some tips.
Show them through example
Your kids regard you as their most significant role model, so if you are trying to teach them any behavior, it is best to do so through emulating what you are trying to teach.
The best way to use this as a ground for teaching empathy is to incorporate emotions into your daily life. For example, when your child is hurt, let them know that you have felt that way too, talk to them about their emotions, and pay attention when they express their feelings. They need to know that they have been heard and cared for.
Let them know that they can rely on you for emotional support when they are feeling bad.
Let them practice in the community
Just like anything that you want to learn, empathy can also be taught through a lot of practice. For a child, this means that giving them responsibility can drastically improve their empathic abilities.
For example, giving them a pet to take care of can be an excellent practice.
Explain to your kids the needs that the pet has and why they have to take care of them regularly. Show them how to feed the pet, play with it, and clean it. Kids will take this much more seriously if you take your time to actually talk to them than to just give them a pet and make it a chore for them to take care of it.
Another way to teach them through practice is to involve them in community service work, such as ‘feed the homeless’ group or any other charity. They will learn how to be responsible and how to think about others in their own community. Talk to them about these experiences.
Fictional stories are wonderful opportunities for letting your child learn the emotional perspective of other beings. Discuss the literature with your kids. Ask questions about a character’s thoughts and emotions.
Research has shown that reading is one of the best ways to foster your child’s empathy and educate them. They read about different characters, and they get to know that character’s reason for thinking or acting a certain way; they identify their own emotions in each character and ask themselves how they would feel in a similar situation and how they would behave.
Talk to them about what they have read and encourage them to talk and think more about “you” than “me.” For example, “How do they feel? How does this situation affect them?”
Teach them self-control
We have all heard about the benefits of reward/punishment systems. Well, this is not a great way to go about teaching moral values to your kids. Studies have shown that kids are less likely to be sympathetic when they have some material gain from acting ethically. The act of empathy stops being important compared to the toy they will get if they act a certain way.
Other studies have revealed that talking to your kids about the consequences of their actions and rationally explaining to them why they should be sympathetic is the better for their development of what is right and what is wrong. For example, children are much more likely to understand moral principles when their parents explain to them how wrongdoing impacts other people than by setting an arbitrary rule that they must follow.
Teaching your kids how to act morally is a hard job, but it can be done through calm conversation and a lot of practice. Show them how to act and explain why you responded the way you did, and it will teach them how to control their own impulsive feelings and act in a way that is compassionate and kind. There is nothing more important in this world than showing empathy to all living beings.
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