Our children learn a lot from us- how to treat others is one of those lessons. During this time of the year, we remind our children to give back and care about others.
Most kids are pretty good at showing empathy- the ability to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Some kids need a little extra help in this department, and that’s okay.
Kids on the autism spectrum and those that have other special needs may need help with this. For example, Julian has had serious issues learning empathy and we work on it almost daily.
Empathy is important for a child’s well-being because it helps build happy and healthy relationships. It can also help prevent bullying and other destructive behaviors/relationships.
Working Towards Empathetic Kids
How can we teach our kids to be more empathetic?
- By being more empathetic ourselves. This means tuning in to what each of our kids needs, physically and emotionally. It also means cherishing their individual personalities and loving your kids as they are, not what you may want them to be. This also means being showing empathy to others, because our kids watch what we do. They watch how we interact with others in public, our friends and other family members.
- Make caring for others a priority. This can vary among families, but many families value taking care of family whenever needed however possible. For example, my kids know that my mom has mobility issues because of her knee replacements, so they help her walk down our very steep driveway. They have watched Matthew help his mom’s family numerous time because he’s great with cars and home projects. I try to help my friends as much as possible and the kids have also seen this.
- Provide opportunities for kids to show empathy. We have done role-playing games with Julian as part of therapy. Over time, those have sunk in a bit, and so has discussing real-life issues in sessions. If you have a kid on the spectrum, you can imagine how difficult this lesson can be to teach. It is starting to get slightly easier. We discuss school and news issues because we are a pretty diverse family and this has created some very interesting discussions. When we took in Miss Purr and Tiger, those were two great times to display empathy, because rescue pets require that. My kids fell in love with both animals instantly. When Tiger’s tumor ruptured, Julian may have been the saddest person in the house. He insisted on sleeping with him the last night before he was put to sleep. When I woke him up for school, he was holding Tiger’s paw. The kids were genuinely worried about Tiger and devastated when he was gone.
- Teach your child to identify their feelings and how to cope with negative feelings. Kids need to know how to identify how they feel so that they can deal with it. They need to be able to express themselves- it can be confusing to not know how to describe how you feel. It can feel worse to not know how to cope with negative feelings. Let your child know what ways are and are not acceptable to deal with those feelings so that when they are angry, sad or feeling other ways, they don’t have to wonder how they can cope.
- Ask “How would you feel?” This may sound simple, but it can be effective. I have done this often and it will make a child think a bit deeper than you may think. Let the child pause and reflect for a few minutes (if needed). They may not know how they would feel at first and need the extra time. Maybe they haven’t thought about it before.
Teaching empathy may take some time, the earlier you start, the better. Have a great holiday season with your family!
How do you encourage your children to care about others? Do you have a favorite story about your child being empathetic to another child? Share if you do!
Information courtesy of Very Well Family
Pics courtesy of Unsplash