Considering the political climate of our country (and of the world), it is more important than ever to genuinely take into consideration the feelings of others. Essentially, we all need a healthy dose of empathy. Empathy is the ability to relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others.
Empathy is like a muscle and can get strengthened the more we practice it. It is never too early to start; even toddlers are sensitive to the feelings of others. Here are some easy ways to help your child become more empathetic (and make our world a better place):
Avoid the simple “quick-fix” by solving children’s problems for them, or by giving them the comforting “everything will be all right” answer to their feelings. Instead, be a role model of empathy by acknowledging their troublesome feelings and taking the time to understand why they feel the way they do. Help them find constructive ways to handle their emotions so they can build their emotional toolbox for future situations they may encounter.
Read, Read, Read
Books are the perfect opportunity to “step into someone else’s shoes”. Look for books with characters from different backgrounds and discuss how their experience is different and similar to their own. Stop frequently to discuss how the character is feeling and why they are feeling that way. Make connections between their own lives and those in the stories. Why do you think the character felt like that? Can you remember a time when you felt a similar way?
Discover What You Have in Common
Get out and meet people from different backgrounds (religions, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, etc) and look for things that you have in common. Be the change you wish to see in the world. When you see someone of diversity or with a disability, reach out to that person and allow your child to see that this person is more similar to him/her than different. Model for your child that differences are something to embrace and celebrate, not be afraid of or shy away from.
Express Your Own Feelings Openly
If you are having a hard day, share it with your child. Not only might their reaction amaze you, but your ability to verbalize a range of emotions will help your child recognize and respond to the emotions of others. They will learn how to verbalize their own emotions in an appropriate way as well.
Point Out Another Perspective
Search out opportunities for your child to experience things from another person’s perspective. Next time you are frustrated because you are waiting on someone else, like when your meal is taking forever at a busy restaurant, encourage your child to look more closely at the situation. Point out the waitresses that are running around, the chefs busily preparing food in the kitchen and the busboys clearing tables. Pass the time by talking about how hard it must be to work in a busy environment like that. Volunteerism is another great way to experience other people’s perspectives. Go online to find a charity that supports others with backgrounds different from your own.
What the world needs now is love sweet love…and empathy! What better way to do your part then to teach this valuable skill to your child today.