Empathy can be defined as being able to feel or imagine another person’s experience or emotional reaction. It is one of those attributes that can really help you connect with another. Today I wanted to talk about the impact of empathy on our children and how we can teach them to be empathetic. One of my favorite authors, and also scholars is Brene Brown. I’m sure that most of you have heard of her, she is pretty well known for a Ted talks on Vulnerability, and her book Daring Greatly. But she also has a little video on Sympathy versus Empathy and I love it. If you want to check it out, here is the the Youtube link. It is meant for adults, but I like her take on empathy, she says that empathy fuels connection. “It is feeling with people.”
Children benefit from empathetic parenting. Studies show that infants are more comforted by empathetic phrases versus sympathetic phrases. For example, when a child is in distress, saying to an infant ‘I know it is hard,’ instead of ‘You are okay.’ Your child will feel like you understand them and are in tune with their needs . They even tend to be more empathetic as they get older. Such as being able to relate to other children which leads to a more caring and compassionate child. Another study shows that children learn empathy as young as 24 hours after birth. Even if all their needs are met, they have shown that infants will cry when others are crying, as an emotional response to another’s distress. Isn’t that neat?
Let’s talk about a few things that you can do to help cultivate empathy for your little ones, and maybe even for yourselves.
Be a model of empathy
If you show empathy towards others, specifically your children they are more likely to catch on. Remember our post about modeling behavior? It works the same way for teaching empathy. When your child is having a hard day, try using empathetic phrases with them instead of telling them to stop crying. Label emotions for them and validate how they are feeling. Think out loud when you are frustrated with someone else, try and put yourself in others shoes, children will learn from your example.
Talk about others experiences
When you are playing with your little one, whether pretend play or even when they are playing with peers add in empathetic experiences. You can have social play to play with stuffed animals or dolls. Talk about how the doll or bear might feel. When they are fighting with a sibling, you can help them see the others side. This will build empathy into their social solutions.
Building empathy, is like anything else. It takes practice. Ask open ended questions when watching a television show or movie at home, encourage them to think about feelings of others that they might not know. It takes trial and error to understand empathy, but giving your little one chances to practice can open their minds to being more emotionally cognizant.
I hope that some of these tips have been helpful in building empathy with your little one. You will be grateful later when you have a more emotionally driven child.