Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The lack there of is the cause of many social ills that we see in society today. Children that become adults without being taught empathy become emotionally immature and therefore hurt others more easily. They are oftentimes not equipped to care for others because they only know how to manage their own feelings and emotions. In the worst cases, the lack of empathy results in prolonged unhealthy mindsets that can easily manifest into negative behaviors such as bullying and lashing out.
Below are five ways that we can prepare our children daily to display empathy:
1. Teach them to apologize. Saying “I’m Sorry” without really understanding the action that was done is not always productive. Instead, teach children to verbalize what they did wrong and offer an apology for it rather than a simple “I’m sorry.”
2. Teach them geography. Even before children are in kindergarten, using a small globe to allow them to conceptualize the world around them is important. It will help them to understand that they are equipped with some privileges that many children do not have. Without explaining the graphic details, point to a place like Aleppo, Syria on a globe or map. Share with them a “G” rated version of the struggle that some children are having. Allow them to say a short prayer or send positive love their way. Having them donate an item to a nonprofit also serves as a tangible action towards serving others in need.
3. Volunteer with a nonprofit organization at least once per month. For the past five years, my special needs daughter has accompanied me to volunteer opportunities with my alumni group. Each year, they volunteer around the globe for a day of service. Despite her special needs, she is able to give back and serve in a way that shows empathy towards those in need.
4. Model it. Without acting like an actress or actor, model empathy with your children and your spouse. Show them how much you care for others when they are hurting. Replay those examples when teaching your children how to be empathetic. Equip yourself with the answer based on your family’s spiritual beliefs when your child asks the question, “Why should I care?” Know your child strengths and weaknesses.
5. Take time to assess your child’s empathy level and know what they are capable of. Some children are naturally compassionate and care for others effortlessly. Others need the above actions implemented daily.