1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
If there was ever a time when it has become absolutely imperative that parents and teachers emphasize teaching kids empathy, it is now.
Empathy is a necessary quality for children to learn so they can develop meaningful relationships and become sharing and caring young people in the sometimes complex and confusing world in which they are growing up. Children with empathy become adults with empathy.
But how do we teach empathy and help children learn to value it?
Here are some tips to consider:
1. Help identify your child’s own emotions
When something happens that causes a particular emotion, ask your child “How do you feel about that?” Then give them an opportunity to talk about those feelings. If they are at an age where they don’t know the whole spectrum of emotions (or the words that describe that emotion), assist them by saying something like “You look mad/surprised/happy/sad”. Mimicking emotions with facial expressions or even using colors and pictures to help identify different feelings can help, too.
This action gives children the opportunity to identify these feelings in themselves, and if you mention that someone else is feeling those emotions also, they can understand.
2. Help your child resolve conflicts with his/her siblings and/or friends
The next time your child gets into a misunderstanding with one of their siblings or a playmate, help them remember a time when they were sad, frustrated, or uncomfortable. Help them explain how they felt and why.
If your child is the one who caused the misunderstanding, giving them an example of a time when they felt those same negative feelings may help them to identify with what the other person is feeling.
Helping your child realize the negative feelings associated with the misunderstanding will motivate them to find ways to resolve their conflicts.
An even more effective way to teach your child to resolve conflicts is to let them see how you resolve conflicts in everyday life.
3. Teach them to read body language
Yes, children can be taught to read body language too, especially by focusing on different facial expressions and body cues that show that a person is experiencing a particular emotion.
Consider, for example:
- Crying with slumped shoulders could indicate that a person is sad.
- Wide open eyes and mouth could indicate surprise.
- Clenched fists, heavy breathing, and arms folded across the chest may suggest anger.
Teaching children these simple body language indicators are a great way to get them to recognize the emotions that others are feeling and help them learn to empathize.
4. Capitalize on a really great moment.
We all know how it feels to feel happy, valued, and safe. During a moment where your child is very happy, remind them to take stock of that feeling and to always make sure they help others feel this way. Help them explain why they feel the way they do, and connect to other times they felt the same way. What did others do that made them happy? How can they make others feel that way through actions?
5. Use tools to help
You’re not sure how to start the conversation on empathy with your child? Using tools that have already been created by others can be great conversation-starters when it comes to the subject.
One of the reasons I wrote the Superheroes Club series was to provide parents and teachers with a tool that would help to begin or continue a dialogue about the ideas of helpfulness, respect, adding value to others, and empathy for children, and more.
Some children’s television shows and movies are also an excellent resource. One of the best ways to use these tools is to watch some of these TV programs or read this book with your child.
When it is over, ask them “What do you think about that?” “What do you think the message was in the TV program or book?”
Allowing your child to verbalize their thoughts on the actions of the characters in a book or TV program might help them begin to understand and adopt those actions as their own Gestures, facial expressions, colors, drawing, storytelling, etc. are all great tools that can be used together to help children gain deeper understanding of their own emotions, the emotions of others, and how each of us has the ability to impact those around us in positive ways.