I believe, hope, that all parents want the very best for their children. And, they want their kids to be the best human beings possible. Some parents are such a mess that they cannot model or teach their kids many needed skill sets.
For those of you who have kids and want to teach your kids the values of empathy and concern for fellow human being, read on. Caroline Bologne has written on this subject and I am embellishing her basic points.
- TALK ABOUT FEELINGS: “The gateway to empathy is emotional literacy” according to educational psychologist, Michelle Borba. A key aspect in teaching kids to identify their own emotions early on is to use emotional language in conversing with your child. Examples would be, “I see you are really frustrated”, I see that you are sad”. Before children can identify and empathize with other people’s feelings, they need to understand their own feelings. Then they can better understand other’s feelings. Questions to your kids might include, “See that woman over there, is she happy or sad?”, “How do you think Tommy felt when you took his toy?”
- USE MEDIA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE: When watching TV or reading books with your kids, you can discuss whether the characters are kind and empathic or being hurtful or mean.
- SET AN EXAMPLE: Modeling a behavior is the best way to teach your child. Use feeling words regularly that you are experiencing and that others may be experiencing.
- ACKNOWLEDGE CHILDREN’S ACTS OF KINDNESS: Positive reinforcement is the best way of stamping in behaviors of others. Parents regularly acknowledge and praise good grades. So, too, should children be recognized and praised when they show kindness and empathy towards others. “That was nice of you to stop and help that little boy. Did you see how happy you made him?”
- EXPOSE TO DIFFERENCES: A primary responsibility of parents is to have their children grow up and thrive in a diverse society through education about and exposure to others who are different, whether culturally, ethnically, religiously, in physical appearance and ability or disability. Movies, books, adventures of various kinds all can assist a child in knowing about, and empathizing with, people that are “different”.
- OWN YOUR OWN MISTAKES: When you as a parent drop the ball where you could have been kinder or more empathic, it is good teaching to be able to say, “I could have been nicer in this circumstance.”
- MAKE KINDNESS A FAMILY ACTIVITY: Sitting around the dinner table might offer opportunities to discuss what is going on and how people feel about such and such. Or, perhaps, doing some volunteer work together as a family.
Respected Reader, did you grow up in a home where values and empathy were taught and practiced? Have you been a leader in helping your children understand and exhibit empathy? With so much harshness and cruelty in the world, any empathy and kindness is most welcomed! Do your part and help the next generation to do theirs.