Empathy is defined as the ability to identify with, or relate to, the feelings, thoughts, attitudes and experience of others.
With more empathy comes more compassion and respect, lower crime rates, and more harmonious relationships overall. Even when we disagree with others, we can respect each other if we take the time to try to understand where the other person is coming from.
Although empathy comes more naturally to certain people, it is something we should all strive for. There are ways we can help our children to grow in this quality. Here are a few ideas:
Be Empathetic Towards Your Child
Be the example of what you want. If you want your child to become strong in the area of empathy, you need to model this behavior towards him/her. Always be willing to see things from your child’s perspective, and try to identify with his feelings. If your child feels hurt about something you said, see the situation from his perspective. Apologize to him for your harsh or uncaring words, and mirror back in your words what he has told you. Help him understand that you see things from his point of view - this is one of the best ways to show him what true empathy is all about.
Be Empathetic Towards Others
If someone has done something that made you feel upset, stop and think instead of lashing out. Let your child see you showing empathy in action. Think about the other person and what may have caused their reaction, words or attitude towards you. Verbalize it with your child so they can see the thought process behind being intentionally empathetic. This will teach them the process so that they too can begin to use it in their own thinking.
Teach Your Child to Care About the Plight of Others
Talk to your children about the struggles that others go through. Show your concern, and ask your child if they have any ideas about how you could care for and help those individuals. Stop any statements and feelings that show a judgemental attitude towards those in need, whether those needs are financial, physical, emotional or anything else.
Explain how people can end up in various situations through factors that are beyond their control. This helps your child to see their own privilege, and to understand that we should all show compassion towards every person we meet, no matter what situation they are in at the moment.
Find Ways to Give as a Family
A great way to show empathy in action is to volunteer. Join forces with the rest of your family and put your energy to use by volunteering your time to those who need it the most. Serve meals together at a shelter, or put together care kits for the less fortunate. My father was great at this - for many, many years he volunteered at a soup kitchen. One of my most enduring memories was of me going with him to help at that soup kitchen. If you can become friends with those you serve, or at least get to know them, it will be easier for you and your children to see them as fellow humans with whom you have much in common, instead of seeing them as charity cases.
Having empathy towards others is an important characteristic for our children who will someday run society. It is one of the greatest lessons anyone can learn. The more we can develop this characteristic in our children is the more likely we can help create a future that is better for us all.