How to raise children with strong empathy?
Empathy is a complex set of skills that represent one’s ability to sympathise with others, understand their feelings and take someone else’s perspective. However, empathy isn’t an inherent personal trait, but rather an acquired quality. With the right approach, you can teach your children to be empathic and caring individuals. This social skill is often a problem even for adults who, in its absence, become somewhat selfish and uncompassionate. Thus, it’s of the utmost importance that you, as a parent, start teaching your children empathy from an early age. Only then will you be able to raise caring and loving individuals mindful of other people and their feelings.
Teach and talk about emotions
Although children start recognising some basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness or anger, from an early age thanks to their mother’s’ facial expressions, they can’t really understand the concept of feelings or put their own feelings into words. You have a vital role in teaching your children about emotions, what they mean and how every person feels different. You should talk to your children about their feelings, encourage them to express them and help them identify more complex feelings in people. You can ask them to guess what emotion a baby is feeling because they can’t speak for themselves. You can discuss together why they are feeling that way. This way, not only will your children learn more about emotions, but they’ll also put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
Provide them with supportive, caring and loving environments
Children’s social environment has a crucial effect on their personal development. Thus, it’s important that you provide your children with an environment where they feel comfortable expressing their feelings and where people nurture healthy, open and honest relationships.
While you can ensure such an environment at home, empathy is a social skill that requires interaction with other people, which is why your children should communicate and spend time with their peers. A possible solution might be to enrol your children in a childcare centre where they can develop their social skills and emotional intelligence. More and more childcare institutions are focusing on fostering emotional intelligence and are implementing various activities that encourage interpersonal communication. For example, experienced experts at Panania childcare centre organise child activities that foster a sense of self and others, as well as social living and learning and create situations that promote empathy and positive social interactions. Apart from being in a family environment that nurtures these skills, your children need to be surrounded with peers and other adults who also foster these qualities.
Be a positive role model
Albert Bandura, a social cognitive psychologist, argues that children learn certain behaviours by observing people from their environment (the so-called observational learning). Thus, if you want your children to develop strong empathy, you yourself need to be a positive role model to your children. The way you express your feelings, treat others and resolve your conflicts will have a major effect on your children. For example, when you’re angry, you shouldn’t yell, but explain why you feel that way. In addition, when you argue with your spouse, you should try to model a positive conflict resolution by being mindful of each other and reaching a compromise.
Get them a pet
Studies have proven that enabling your children to grow up with pets offers numerous benefits. Pets can help you teach your children empathy and help them connect with others. Research has shown that children with pets have a higher level of emotional intelligence, develop compassion and empathy and acquire a sense of responsibility. At first, children are quite egocentric and focused on their own needs. However, by taking care of their pets, they become less self-absorbed and more considerate of their pets’ feelings and needs. In addition, since pets can’t speak, children need to put themselves in their shoes and try to identify their emotions. Thus, if you’ve been thinking about getting your children a pet, you’ll have yet another reason to welcome a new family member.
Read to and with them
Reading to your children, and later with them, plays a pivotal role in their development. Apart from improving their cognitive skills, reading fictional and real-life stories offers plenty of opportunities for teaching your children empathy. Not only can they empathise and identify with different characters, but you can also discuss different situations and questions together and even try role-playing.
Considering that empathy represents one of the basic and fundamental skills that every child should have, it’s essential that you recognise its importance and work on your children’s development, as well as raising awareness among adults.
Claire is a personal and professional development expert who believes that a positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can find her online writing and giving tips about lifestyle and development as a regular contributor at High Style Life. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.