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Why and How to Help Children Develop Strong Empathy Skills

  admin   |    September 01, 2021

Empathy is one of the most vital Emotional Intelligence (EI) skills you can learn. It means understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings and thoughts of another in an objectively explicit manner. Although having empathy does not necessarily mean we’ll want to help someone in need, though it’s often a vital first step toward compassionate action.

What is empathy?

Why is empathy important, some of you may wonder?

Through empathy, we can connect with others to build strong and healthy relationships in our communities, careers, and personal lives. Unfortunately, being empathetic isn’t something we’re born with, we can begin to see signs of empathy in infancy and the trait develops steadily through childhood and adolescence.

How do we help our children to develop strong empathetic skills? These four tips can get you started.

1. Model empathetic behaviour-

Your children look up to you for everything, right from skills to how you behave. For instance, they learn how to speak by listening to adult’s converse. Similarly, children learn vital social behaviours and cues by observing how their parents engage with others.

The best way to teach empathy is by being empathetic towards your children. When children understand how it feels to receive it, they will better understand the benefits and the role empathy plays in human relationships.

Importance of teaching your child empathy

2. Talk about emotions and feelings-

Empathy is, at its core, the ability to understand feelings and emotions. If a child feels uncomfortable expressing themselves, they’ll shy away from empathizing with these emotions in others.

Children can struggle to pick up on crucial feelings based on a lack of understanding of body language and facial cues at an early age.

As parents, it can be challenging to watch our children struggle with certain emotions. When they’re sad or angry, we want to fix it. However, we shouldn’t always rush to get rid of these “negative” emotions. We should help our children feel emotions such as anger and guilt and teach them that it’s ok to feel them. This way children will be more comfortable showing empathy towards others when they themselves can feel it.

3. Have discussions with your children about other perspectives and experiences-

Talk about empathy in a way your children can understand. For example, phrase things that clearly illustrate the feeling and why the other person may be feeling that way. Try giving them situations and by asking them what they would have done. For example-

“In the restroom at school, one student gets teased and pushed into a stall by other kids. Imagine you're a kid watching this interaction. How do you demonstrate empathy?

If they cannot come up with solutions right away, tell them how they can approach the given situation at hand. For Example,

First, you remember what it is like to be picked on. You may wait until the bullies have left and help the kid out of the stall. You could also show compassionate empathy and take action by reporting the bullying to an adult.”

As parents we can help by phrasing things in this way that outlines other’s feelings and emotions. Ask your child to put themselves in the headspace of a time when they may have felt frustrated and sad for the same reason. Finally, ask your child to find a way to help their friend in a way that works for them.

4. Read stories and watch videos that discuss empathy-

Media can be a handy tool for teaching empathy. Children can become very attached to characters in their favourite shows and books. There are also many children’s books that discuss feelings.
Try some of these:

  • • I am Human by Susan Verde
  • • These Shoes by Maribeth Boelts
  • • Most People by Michael Leannah
  • • The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas
  • • Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

In our modern world, empathy is more important than ever before. Without empathy, people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. Each of us has differing perspectives. We all experience moods, pain and hurt, joy and sadness. And we are so limited when we only see our own perspective. Without taking a moment to assess another, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings.

Empathy allows us to understand better the struggles and experiences of those who are different from us.

As we collectively navigate a global pandemic and re-evaluate racial bias and injustice in our communities, it’s essential to recognize the importance of empathy.

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