Empathy is a big word for a small child. The dictionary meaning is the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Empathy is a foundational value we want our children to develop and exhibit as they grow. Empathy helps children learn to care about other people. As they begin to recognize their own emotions and feelings they will better be able to learn about empathy.
Here are a few suggestions for helping your young child find empathy.
- Model feeling compassion for others to your children. Let them know they are valued by you and they should value and respect others even if they don’t have the same view.
- Make caring for others an important family value. If they have a pet let them know how important it I to value not only people but pets as well. What you are telling your child is empathy has value in our family.
- Help your children develop self-control. Help them understand their anger and other negative emotions. Understanding these emotions can help children get along better and resolve conflict.
When my children were young I would put up a small poster each week with a new emotion to help them understand and label their feelings. For example; happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy. You can help your child develop their emotional repertoire by labeling feelings and providing pictures and examples of behavior associated with the feeling..
Both family and classroom life will be better served with empathetic children. Most important-praise empathetic behavior when your child shows it!
Planting emotional seeds like empathy at a young age is one of the reasons I wrote Planting My Values. As children grow older the benefits of service to others and giving back are instrumental in developing a selfless young compassionate adult. One of the favorite bonding experiences I enjoy with my teenage boys is to go feed the homeless men at the Star of Hope Mission in Houston. The men are so thankful and grateful for having a meal and a smiling face serve them and my boys have gained a deeper understanding of empathy and compassion.
I found this empathy poster on Pinterest. Please share your stories of empathy in your children’s lives.