Empathy is a powerful human emotion that allows us to feel for one another and connect to each other on deeper and stronger levels. When we have empathy for another individual, our feelings become connected. We begin to understand, see and feel things from their perspective.
For example, if an individual is feeling sad, when we are empathetic for them, we understand how they are feeling and, thus, we can use our emotional intelligence to help them in their time of support.
It is important to teach empathy to our children to empower our children to feel empathy within themselves and for others. Since it can be a difficult feeling to understand, we should take time and effort in talking with our children about empathy and how to incorporate empathy into their emotions and feelings.
There are 3 simple steps we can take to teach empathy to our children.
- Recognize that there is a concern to be felt toward others
- Ask your children if they understand what the other individual is feeling? (engage in meaningful conversation to delve a little deeper)
- Act upon those feelings in a positive manner (how can they help?)
Recognize that there is a concern to be felt toward others
The first step is to help our children realize that there should be a concern felt for others in this given situation.
Perhaps you are walking down the street with your child and you see another child who is sitting on a bench by themselves waiting for the school bus and appearing sad. In this moment, you can ask your child how they think that child is feeling. You can ask questions like, “Do you think he or she is happy or sad?” and “How would you feel if you were in their position?”
Beginning with this step will help your children to process the scenario and start understanding that other individuals, including children, have valid, important feelings too.
Ask your children if they understand what the other individual is feeling
After your children realize that there is a concern to be felt toward others, it is then important to walk through the feeling of the other person. To allow them to see, feel and understand where that person is coming from or going through. This can be achieved by asking engaging questions that encourage deeper thought.
“What do you think that person is feeling?”
“What do you think scares them the most?”
“Why do you think they are [sad, scared, silent, distant]?”
“What would you be feeling if you were to switch places with them?”
“What do you think you could do to help them?”
In this moment, you can help your children to build their skills of empathy by walking them through the emotions they are experiencing.
Act upon those feelings in a positive manner
The third step in teaching your children empathy is to then help your children utilize the emotions they are feeling to act upon them in a positive way, therefore sharing love and kindness with the individuals who are in need in that moment.
Continuing the above example, you could brainstorm ideas with your child on how to share love and kindness with the child sitting alone at the bus stop. You can help your child come up with ideas such as going over to the child and introducing yourself to them and sitting with them until the bus arrives. You could also invite the child to play.
This is an important step because it shows your children that when they are feeling these feelings of empathy, they have the power to make a positive difference and impact in someone’s life at the moment particularly in their time of need.
After taking action on their feelings of empathy, ask your children how they are feeling now that they have done their part to spread love and kindness. This is an important moment as it will help your child build a strong foundation of understanding and empower them to continue that positive behavior.
As a parent and a caring adult, you have been given one of the greatest blessings and opportunities in life: The opportunity to teach your children empathy. In teaching your children empathy, you are developing the skills and resources within your children to encourage them to be the bright shining lights of kindness they are destined to be!