Empathy: What can our children gain from being more empathic?

Empathy Matters
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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Did you know there was an Empathy Day? Yes, there’s a day for it. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the feelings of others, both human and animal. It’s also a great opportunity to begin practicing empathy with your children.

Consideration for others may seem like an obvious concept. But if you’ve ever had you’re little one yell out “Why does that man smell, daddy?” Or anything along those lines, you’ll know that it isn’t something children know naturally. This is why today is a great day to begin the discussion with your child.

Empathy Matters

Empathy is actually a skill. It isn’t something your child can inherit from you. You may be as nice as pie, but your child may not be as lovely. Children with higher levels of empathy do better at school, develop better relationships with others and go on to flourish in their careers.

This isn’t to say your child has no empathy at all. Toddlers tend to behave closer to their own levels of empathy. They may try to comfort a friend who is upset, or share their toys with a sibling who they care for. Their  As they get older, this natural understanding gives way to their own feelings. And what they are feeling may not always come out in the form of care and understanding. If you’ve ever seen your child hit another child, mock them or laugh when their down you’ll know this is true.

How to teach them

Empathy MattersStart a dialogue on the subject. Get your children to reflect on both their positive and negative behaviour. You can do this by asking them reflective questions:

  • Why did you do that?
  • How do you think it made him/her feel?
  • How would you feel if someone did that to you?

Story time is a great opportunity to teach them values that go hand in hand with empathy. A story like Charlotte’s Web can open up a great discussion about friendship, kindness and difference.

Music is also a great way to get your child expressing their feelings and learning to act on them in a healthy way. You can create opportunities to develop this skill. Role play situations with your children. Engage them in conversation about movies you watch together. It doesn’t have to be brought up as a chastisement when they behave in a way you don’t like.

As they grow older they will come into contact with different people with different personalities, beliefs and backgrounds. A lack of understanding can sometimes lead to confusing feelings that children will not know how to react to naturally. We’ve all met a bully in our lives. They tend to pick on those who are different. Not like them. They’re unable to understand how their actions effect others. All they can focus on are their own feelings.

By teaching our children about the diversity that surrounds them, you’re helping to get them thinking about the difference in the world. Their understanding and ability to empathise will help them to navigate tricky social situations as well as to develop healthy relationships. These are skills that many great leaders possess- diplomacy, tact, foresight. I’m sure we can also think of a few who could stand to learn a thing or two about empathy.

The world needs more kindness and understanding. So don’t shy away from talking about feelings with your children. They will benefit from it in more ways than one.