Previously I spoke about empathy (link here) and how it can be learned. This post will discuss how that can apply to children.
All parents want their children to grow up to be kind, successful and have good relationships with other people. Therefore we should be teaching our children empathy. How do you do that?
First, remember that children copy adults. If they are surrounded by empathetic adults they are likely to pick up empathy. Model the behaviours you’d like to see in your kids so that they are surrounded by them every day. Think hard about the other adults that your children spend time around. Do they show the kinds of behaviours that you’d like your children to pick up?
Always treat your child with empathy, by accepting their emotions (even difficult or ‘negative’ emotions). Remember that they can’t change their emotions, and if they are tired, angry, sad etc. the emotions are real and not being generated to annoy or control you. Even if they are upset about something that seems unimportant to you, to them it is important. Eventually you can help them learn that they can control how they behave when they feel difficult emotions. We’ll talk more about that in a future post.
Help your child to name their emotions. Having a name for something makes it less confusing and is calming. It is also a way for your to acknowledge your child’s emotion and a first step towards your child learning to recognise the emotions that others are feeling.