Building “Empathy Muscles” with your Child

Empathy is a skill and an awareness that we can build – in ourselves and our children. Empathy is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and connect to their feelings or to take their perspective. It is also the ability to regulate our own emotions and be able to separate our own feelings from the feelings of others.

Here are some ways to teach empathy to your children:

* Address your child’s needs without dismissing or minimizing. Research tells us that children whose emotional and physical needs are met at home are much more likely to show empathy and help others in distressiStock_000006427332Small

* Talk to children about feelings: yours and theirs. This helps children recognize their emotions in challenging situations.

* Help children explore others’ perspectives. You can use real life situations or take advantage of movies you see together or books you are reading. What is the character feeling? Why might he or she be doing what he/she is doing? What does the person or character want or believe?

* Help your children understand what they have in common with others. Research supports the idea that children are more empathetic with others they perceive to be similar/familiar to them.

*Help your children understand that each person is also unique. Differences don’t make one person “right” and the other person “wrong.” When we understand what the other person is thinking or what they may be afraid of we can connect with that person more easily.

* Use discipline that is based on developing inner self-control. Studies have shown that children are less likely to help others if they are given material rewards for doing so.

* Look for the joy in parenting. Spend quality time with your children, listen to them,  and show them affection.