We understand that empathy is important – but how do we help our children develop this complex skill?
We have many dreams for our children. We hope they are happy, healthy, emotionally well-adjusted people who can positively impact the world. We hope they are confident, kind, know how to be a good friend, and have good friends. We hope they are successful at school, helpful and engaged and develop a positive relationship with Jesus (if this is part of your family’s conviction). These things are heart things, and empathy plays a large part in creating these outcomes.
What is empathy?
Empathy is 3 things:
Developing empathy in your child
Be empathic. Avoid the simple “quick-fix” by solving children’s problems or by giving them the comforting “everything will be all right” answer to their feelings. Instead, be a good role model by reflecting what they are feeling. Acknowledge their feelings, help them to label them and then give them positive choices in how to respond. “I see you are feeling disappointed. You were hoping to stay and play longer. Let’s take some deep breaths together and calm……Would you like to say goodbye to grandma or granddad first before we leave? “or “would you like to put your left shoe or right shoe on first?”
Use expressive photographs, drawings, and wordless books to provide practice in “reading” the nonverbal expressions and emotions of others. Remember that there is no right or wrong answer in these activities. Allow children the safety of expressing what they are feeling and imagining without criticism.
Express your feelings openly. If you are having a hard day, tell your child. (with age appropriate detail) Not only might their reactions amaze you, your ability to verbalize a range of emotions and problem solve appropriate responses will help children recognize and respond to the emotions of others and grow in their ability to handle their own emotional responses.
Demonstrate how you handle negative emotions and self-regulate. Your modeling is essential to their learning and development
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11
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