5 Ways to teach empathy to your child...
Created by Sugandha Tiwari Updated on Jul 06, 2017
Empathy as an emotion is defined as “the ability to distinguish one’s own feelings from the feelings of others”, or in simple words, to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In the process of bringing up our children as responsible and sensitive human beings, it is necessary that we teach them how to empathise with others and manage their own emotions in different situations. Once they are used to dealing with emotions, it will become an integral part of their lives. Your child’s emotional and psychological health is to be one of the major contributors to their overall well-being. Here are a few tips on how to teach your child empathy -
Cater to their emotional needs
Be there for your child! Children who know their emotional needs are met at home and who have caregivers to comfort, support and listen to them in distress, are more likely to grow up as sensitive individuals who show empathy for others needs and pain.
As and when you feel it appropriate, share your feelings with your child; for example - when you are upset or you are really happy and excited, share with him/her that “mom is feeling really happy” or “mom is stressed today”. It helps them understand that it is perfectly fine not just to have a certain kind of emotion, but also to express it. It allows them to deal with their own feelings, express them appropriately, and in the future have empathy and compassion for others.
Encouraging a sense of empathy in our children ensures they grow up to become emotionally and psychologically healthy adults. When your child will learn to feel and express his/her emotions in a healthy manner, s/he will grow up to be someone who is comfortable feeling a certain emotion him/herself. Once s/he is alright with it, s/he will look for solutions to vent it out in a positive manner, and not allow these emotions or a lack of empathy to overpower their life. Such children naturally learn the art of empathizing.
Actions have consequences
Demonstrate to your child the effect of their behaviour on others. How bullying or passing rude comments can hurt others. Encourage him/her to identify with the other - just the way s/he feels bad, their behaviour can also make others feel bad. From the beginning teach him/her how our choices and decisions can impact other people’s lives. How our mood swings and ways of communicating and responding can either make a relationship or break it, and can either make the environment warm and welcoming for everybody or make them uncomfortable. Most importantly as a parent you need to model the correct ways of expression for your children.
Learning with their favourites
Use stories and movies that s/he enjoys as examples. Choose his/her favourite characters, and enact situations, taking turns to play different characters. Ask your child to stop where the character has to feel some emotion, ask them to imagine how the character must be feeling. This will allow your child to experience how others can possibly feel. You may name those emotions for him/her. With older children, you could ask them a range of ‘why’ based questions, and ask them to recall, reflect upon and identify them with any of their past experiences.
Activities involving teamwork, such as sports, are very effective in teaching empathy. When children participate together in projects or sports events, they practice skills of cooperation and understanding for effective team work. For example, if one team wins, the team members show equal amount of respect and acknowledgement to the losing team and do not brag about their achievements. Similarly, the losing team takes responsibility for their loss and does not blame others.
Thinking about someone else’s perspective and the ability to understand another’s world are difficult, especially in a world where everybody wants to prove herself/himself right, and not have the courage to work on their weaknesses and negative points. Teaching empathy will allow our children to have more loving, fulfilled and affectionate relationships, be more responsible as a citizen, and create harmony in their environment as adults.
Did you find Sugandha’s insights on teaching empathy useful? How do you teach your children empathy and compassion? Do share your experiences and learnings with us in the comments section below. We love hearing from you!