Teaching empathy can go a long way in shaping the adults of tomorrow. It is like any other skill that gets better with practice and time.
Empathy is the ability to understand the trials and tribulations from the perspective of another person. At a time like this, empathizing with others is crucial. Especially for kids. Whether it is the pandemic or the political climate, getting kids to understand the position other people are in and how to feel about it is important. Children are not inherently empathetic. “Toddlers don’t have that ability to go outside of themselves. They only know themselves, so their first and primary goal is to comfort themselves,” Jacquelynn Pleis, assistant professor of education at Charleston Southern University told Post and Courier.
Teaching empathy can go a long way in shaping the adults of tomorrow. It is like any other skill that gets better with practice and time. Children who are taught empathy are less likely to turn out to be bullies or con artists later. They will most likely grow up to be deeply caring of those around them. They will also be able to practice patience and live for more than themselves. Which is what empathy is all about. The world could be a better place if more and more people learn empathy. To inculcate that from a young age could go a long way. Here are some ways you can go about it.
It is well known that children imitate adults' actions. By practicing empathy yourself, you are setting an example for your child. It can also mean to extend your help to those in need. Taking time to volunteer at shelters, covering someone's grocery bill, and other things that you are capable of doing, to let the little ones know that even small gestures could go a long way. On the other hand, empathizing with your child will give them a first-hand experience of what empathy feels like. This will encourage them to treat others how they like to be treated. By letting them know that they can approach you with their concerns in a non-judgemental environment, respecting and acknowledging their emotions can go a long way in them getting a grip on what empathy means.
But at the same time, make sure to get your bearings so you are in the best mind frame to be able to empathize with your children. Times are stressful and you are human. To be able to handle your kids' worries and stress you also need to be able to have the right state of mind.
A Harvard research found that parents end up prioritizing their kid's successes and achievements more than their feelings and value as a person. Even though most parents mean well, this skewed priority may have a detrimental impact on the child's perception of what it means to care. They are so much more than their grades and awards. It is important for parents to keep this in mind and reassure their kids often. Instead of it turning into coddling, it could help if kids are encouraged to make it a priority to care for others around them. Setting a value system based on caring is important.
Teaching your kids that the world is more than what happens in their life and there is so much more to live for will help them put things in perspective. Even at home, allotting chores to your kids and getting them to pitch in with housework is a good start to teach them a sense of community. Having discussions about what it means instead of telling them to do what you tell them to will also help.
Children are not born with empathy but can learn it through the course of their life. So it is important, as parents, to help kids develop the muscle for empathy. Like any other skill that kids pick up, like learning a language, sport, picking up a habit, they can also learn empathy. To master any skill or habit it is imperative that they do it regularly so that their brains get wired to it. The same goes for empathy. Encourage your children to go out of their way to help someone in need. It could be as simple as helping a friend with homework or something bigger like volunteering for a climate change protest. Let them follow their heart but stay there to guide them.
It is important to have difficult conversations with them about ethical dilemmas that exist in the world. Like talking about how essential workers have been risking their lives to make others' lives better with minimal pay. The conversations about class, race, and the intersection of these and how they can help. And why they should help as well.
It is easy to get your child to care about you, their grandparents, their siblings, and cousins. They share a bond that is tied by blood. Through the practice of empathy, the children will understand that the world does not revolve around them or their families alone. There is so much that happens in the world that even though it may not have a direct impact on them, it still matters. Talk to them about these matters not only in your community but around the world. Give them context and encourage critical thinking.
Also, teach your kids about the small actions that they do every day that could have a bigger impact on those around them. In the same way, tell them how there are so many others who help us without us knowing. From the garbage man, the receptionists, the people who grow the food we eat, and the cashiers who work endlessly to keep everything in motion for us.
Kids are still learning and will feel the full extent of all human emotions. As they should. Jealousy, envy, hatred, anger, fear, are common emotions to feel and they should not be discouraged from feeling it. Instead, acknowledge that they are feeling this and help them navigate the reason for feeling this. Share your own experiences of going through these emotions and how you handled them. These feelings will get in the way of empathy but they cannot be discarded either. Teach them ways to cope with it, for instance, to take a deep breath and count to ten before saying something mean that they might regret later.
These feelings can also stem from other societal conditioning such as stereotypes and prejudices. Untangle these misconceptions to your children and tell them why it wrong to put people in boxes. Help them unlearn things that they will inevitably pick up from the world around them. This will also help keep you on your toes as you educate yourself to be a better guide to your children.