A dose of empathy can change the world. Empathy is a critical skill and when people can identify and understand someone else’s feelings, they are able to offer a helpful response.
When you are empathetic, you can cope with conflict better. You can stand up for those who need support and grow to be well-adjusted members of society.
Some people, young and old, tend to develop empathy easier than others. It is not an innate trait and it can be taught.
You can teach your child empathy.
If you are thinking, oops… I was supposed to be doing this? But, how?!
The good news?
The best time to teach empathy is now. There is no time too early or too late.
Kids need to be familiar with a range of feelings. You can play a rousing game of, “what does a sad face look like.” For older children, you should label emotions when you see them, whether in person, in books or on TV. As parents, we can model the first step in empathy by giving our kids the emotional vocabulary.
Talking about feelings is essential for young boys and girls. This doesn't mean life gets all mushy and fluffy. Feelings are a part of life and every child should be taught to understand not only their feelings but how their actions affect other people’s feelings.
When your child gets left out by a group at the playground, let them know you’ve been there. You know it feels sad and frustrating. When you connect in a situation like this, you are modeling an empathetic behavior that will stay with them.
Beyond modeling and labeling, parents and teachers need to ensure children feel safe. When children are secure and feel heard or understood, they are more likely to return this behavior towards others as they grow up.
At ABBY&FINN, we are big fans of the filling your bucket concept. Especially the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids? This book is just one in a series that teaches kids about caring for others and showing empathy, filling both their bucket and your own with an act of kindness. Also check out the book in the same series called Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children for a perfect way to start teaching your children about empathy.
By simply showing kids how we can impact others, their future generosity begins to develop. Let's talk about a few ways to incorporate empathy lessons for your toddler and preschool aged kiddos.
Bake Treats for Others
Cooking and making food for a neighbor or nursing home is a terrific way to spread kindness. Making homemade cookies is a great activity and when you deliver them to someone, it makes it even more special. Your kids will see the joy on the recipient’s face and it will help them understand how they are contributing to someone’s happiness and “filling their bucket.”
Bonus Tip: Kids tend to be impatient (who isn’t), so while the cookies bake, help them practice patience by using that time to talk about giving and the feelings they think they’ll have when they hand over their tray of baked goods to someone who needs a pick me up.
Donate Toys & Books
Donating unused toys and books is an easy way to incorporate your children into helping others. Toys are often tough to part with but it can be helpful to do this before birthdays and holidays to make room for new things to come. Often when children are involved with bringing the toys and seeing or hearing about the children who will benefit from their gently used toys and books, it is easier for them to feel the value in their choice to donate.
Bonus Tip: Books tend to be easier for kids so I recommend starting there if they are particularly unsure about the process.
You can have your kids help you sort through your linen stash, fold and pack up the ones you don’t use and bring them to a local animal shelter.
Bonus Tip: This is a great opportunity to teach your kids to fold. Maybe start with hand towels and then work your way up to clothing. When they take over folding the laundry completely, think of how good life will be! Start them young :)
Opportunities to teach empathy are everywhere and we hope these ideas are helpful to get the conversation going in your household. We’d love to hear how you approach the topic of empathy in your home, share your comments below!