7 ways you can inspire your child to be empathetic
If there is one thing most parents agree on, it is the importance of raising happy, well-adjusted children. In today’s world, to fit in well with their peers, it is necessary for children to learn to accept those that are different from them. For this, they’ll need one skill — empathy.
Empathy allows us to forge meaningful relationships with each other, to connect and love those who may not look or speak like us. You may have noticed that your toddler can understand how another person feels by simply looking at their facial expressions. This is not surprising — studies have shown that children as young as 18 months can display empathy!
So just a little guidance in the right direction can go a long way in raising your child to be sensitive to those around them. On that note, we’ve put together a list of simple daily activities that will help always keep empathy and kindness close for your child to pick up on and imbibe.
1. Model empathy
This is a no-brainer. If you talk rudely to the house help, your child will pick up on it. If you give your little one a kiss when they hurt their finger, they’ll give you a kiss when you hurt yourself too. Your child learns how to interact with people around them by watching how you interact with people around you. So model the behavior you want them to learn, even if that means going out of your way to do something.
2. Use the magic words
Say please, sorry, and thank you at every opportunity you get. This means saying please and thank you at home too, even for the smallest things. It may seem silly at first but it is a form of reinforcement that will ensure your child always uses these magic words.
3. Help your child identify feelings
Ask your child multiple times in the day about how they are feeling. Happy, sad, and hungry may be the easy ones to name, but also help identify and name the Big Feelings — like when they are frustrated, tired, bored, irritable, or starting to get angry. This will help them understand what is happening much better and deal with it accordingly. Identifying their own feelings will also help them recognize these emotions in others.
4. Make sharing and teamwork a priority
Sharing is caring and teamwork makes the dream work, right? Make sure your child remembers these simple and powerful age-old philosophies. You could do this by insisting the family does something together each day or has a game night every week so they understand what it means to work together as a team to achieve something. Encourage them to share their toys with their friends, siblings, or even with you while playing.
5. Talk about the importance of tone
Most children these days are used to interacting with technology such as Siri and Alexa. So it’s possible that they may not naturally pick up on the role of tone in human conversation. Talk to your child about intonation and how things can be said impactfully using soft sounds and words. Help them see that it’s just as important to be understood as it is to be heard.
6. Help them get comfortable with differences
Try to use every opportunity to initiate a conversation about different kinds of people and how we can celebrate differences. Talk about different skin colors, body types, and hair types. Do not shy away from discussing disabilities and asking your child how they can help if they meet someone with a disability. Equip them with tools to be comfortable around those who are different from them.
7. Reward kindness, do not accept unkindness
Teach your child from the beginning that unkindness, being rude, or hurting others is unacceptable behavior in your family. Make sure there are no compromises to this rule. Positive reinforcement also does wonders so make a conscious effort to recognize when your child indulges in an act of kindness or goes out of their way to help someone. Use a little deception and tell someone else that you are proud of your child for something nice that they did. Pretend you don’t know your child is within earshot. This will not only make them feel nice but they will try and repeat the action for praise!
Trust that your child is growing up to be a good person!
If you see your child behave poorly, it’s natural to worry if you are doing a bad job in teaching them to be a kind person. But remember that just like us, even children have tough days and bad moods. They too feel sad and angry and hurt and act out every once in a while. What’s important is that you help them see what happened, why it needs to change, and keep guiding them to do better each time!