Empathy can be a challenge for children. In fact, many adults have a difficult time with empathizing. In a world where bullying is the news item of the day, it is obvious that we need to teach our children to think more of others than themselves.
Empathy is more than sympathy. Sympathy is acknowledging how another person feels and perhaps offering comfort and support. Empathy, however, is the ability to truly understand how another feels because you’ve experienced it or have the ability to “put yourself in their shoes”. In other words, you feel their feelings with them.
Five Ways to Teach Empathy to Your Child
Show empathy to your child
There is no greater teacher than experience. Show true joy in his accomplishments, sadness for his pain, concern for his problems. If your child regularly experiences empathy from you, it will become a part of his nature to do it for others.
Show empathy towards others. Talk to your child about how another “must be feeling”. This could be a real-life situation or something they’ve seen on television but discussing how someone else may be feeling about a situation encourages empathy.
Be a “Mind-Minded” parent
Treat your child as an individual with his own feelings, no matter how young. Discuss emotional and mental states. Talk about how a person’s emotions and mental state may affect their beliefs, words and actions. This helps a child put himself “in another’s shoes”.
Go through the motions
Do role playing games. Act out a story in a book. Have the child make the facial expressions of the characters. By taking on a character’s emotions or another person’s role, we change the child’s perspective. By having them act out the facial expressions associated with the emotions, we help them to truly “feel” what the character or person feels.
Give them love, hugs and cuddles
Studies indicate that higher levels of oxytocin (the “cuddle hormone”) helps people read the expressions of others more accurately. (Domes et al 2006). If we give our children plenty of snuggle time, we are helping to develop their ability to understand others and have healthier social interactions.
What things do you do in an effort to teach your child empathy?
Michelle Cannon is a single mom homeschooling two daughters in Florida. She has been homeschooling for 13+ years and has graduated three children. She enjoys writing, camping and hiking, and considers coffee a major food group. She writes about homeschooling using the Charlotte Mason method, as well as educating children with Dyslexia and Bipolar Disorder. Read more from her at The Holistic Homeschooler.