Tips on raising a more empathetic child
There are days when it seems like empathy in children can be hard to come by. Good thing it’s possible to make a difference in the world by teaching our children the skills of relating to people in a variety of circumstances.
The work may require some conscious effort and follow-through, but it will be well worth it. Some of the basic truths about how to raise empathetic kids are simply that if children learn to act differently when they’re younger, their positive attitudes will last well into the future.
Demonstrate empathy in front of your kids
When you think about how you spend your days, you’ll realize that you probably have lots of opportunities to demonstrate that you’re understanding of others comfortable with people in a range of circumstances. Take advantage of these opportunities whenever you can. On the most basic level, smile at someone as you ask them about their day and then listen to them. Let someone who might be in a hurry go in front of you in traffic.
There are more developed ways to show empathy as well. If there’s another person or an animal in need, stop to help. If you find yourself in the middle of a discussion about a serious topic, take time to hear out the other person, state your point of view considerately if you differ, and be as gracious as possible.
As you make helping others a habit, your children will notice what you’re doing and will inherently learn that it is ok. Your actions are speaking louder than any words or behavior-focused lectures could. You’ve also set a family standard for how you believe others should be treated, showed your kids the specifics of how it could be done, and allow them to see the positive results that others receive from your actions.
Expose kids to different kinds of people and situations
In order for kids to be more understanding and empathetic to others, it can help if they’re exposed to people from a wide range of cultures and in a variety of situations. This exposure helps kids to be comfortable, relaxed, and accepting of the times when something is different than what they’re generally used to experiencing.
Take advantage of opportunities to get kids out of their comfort zone. Help them to experience other cultures and become exposed to the ways other people can do things. Talk to them about how situations may vary from what they’re used to. With this exposure, they’ll understand that differences are ok and not something to be laughed at, dismissed, avoided, or called out. They’ll also be less shocked and primed to help out if different situations become uncomfortable or negative.
Regularly talk about caring for others
Raising empathetic kids also involves conversations that address that there are a variety of positive and negative situations in the world ant that these are ok rather than scary. From time to time, take some moments to talk to your kids about what it really means to care for others and accept differences. This can happen at unexpected moments, such as when you’re talking about how the school day went or during car rides to sports practice or another club. As you talk, be sure to discuss both their feelings and the feelings of others. This will help them to develop emotional literacy which can be the basis for later empathetic actions.
Conversations can also take place as a follow up to any actions you see your child taking part in. At a very young age, you may see your child grabbing at another friend’s toy. Gently talk to them about sharing or waiting their turn, and how their actions affected the other person. Alternatively, if your child was generous to someone who needed some encouragement, praise them. Also, talk about how they feel about their actions.
Discuss media examples of empathy and understanding
Though you may try to protect your kids from some of the less positive information in the news and other media, they’re still likely to hear stories from time to time. This is especially true as kids get older. As much as possible, try to be their partners in understanding and processing these media stories.
If kids are exposed to news stories, consider reading the articles or viewing the video with them. Talk about how the participants in the stories feel and about how your kids feel when they read it. If it is a positive story this is easier, negative stories may require more time to process. Encourage kids to share their feelings, possibly through writing or drawing in addition to the discussion.
Kids will also be exposed to opportunities to talk about empathy as they watch fictional media videos including many popular children’s shows. This is even true for well-curated, mostly positive media outlets that are designed for child viewing. Try to take time to view shows with them. With both positive and negative examples of empathy, talk with them about possible solutions and alternative ways a scenario could have played out and about what actions they can take to help.
With any media viewing or general conversations, remind kids that they can always come to you at any time with questions or concerns. The goal is for them to see your family as a safe place to process stories and discuss what they’re learning about the world.