As parents we have so many responsibilities to our children. It is up to us to keep them safe. We are tasked with giving them guidance as they grow and move onto a meaningful adult life. The weight of that job on our shoulders can seem overwhelming. Yet there is one lesson that is one of the most important and too often ignored, to the detriment of our children’s emotional future and relationships.
Empathy is not a naturally occurring instinct in everyone. It is one that is acquired during our formative years, cultivated through patient life lessons and understanding. Parents can help their child to develop this skill, which will ultimately make them happier in return.
Here are some ways you can begin helping your child to connect with empathy, regardless of their age.
The Parenting Guide To Teaching Empathy
The first step is to teach them that communication is important. Not only do they need to know how to convey their own needs, but also to understand and appreciate the needs of others. This is a difficult concept for younger children to process, but introducing the topic early will help them develop it over time.
By the time they are in their teens this is a skill that is incredibly important. It can help them to establish better relationships with both friends and romantic partners, as well as with you and other family members. It can even help later on with jobs, college classes and more. Plus it will make them the kind of person others feel they can approach and be open with.
Learning to communicate about mutual needs gives your child a foundation for empathizing with the people they speak with.
One of my own favorite tactics to use with my children is to ask, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” Brain development takes time and until they have developed to a certain age kids are almost completely unable to consider people outside of themselves in anything more than basic ways. It is an age of being completely self focused.
By bringing it back to a way that relates to them they can put themselves in the other person’s shoes. This gives them a frame of reference to understand and appreciate what other people are going through.
Children emulate us. As parents we have to take care that we are not sending the wrong message. Those times you are stuck in traffic and start muttering about everyone around you being an idiot? They hear that. When you gossip about the woman in your neighborhood who isn’t doing so well? They take that in.
Living a life of kindness and empathy is the best way to teach your child those concepts in a powerful way. No spoken words are needed, just better behavior as parents. They will come along on their own, following our example.
Tyler Jacobson is a father, husband, and freelancer, with experience in writing and outreach for organizations that help troubled teen boys and parents. Tyler has offered personal, humorous and research backed advice to readers on parenting tactics, problems in education, issues with social media, various disorders, addiction, and troublesome issues raising teenage boys. Connect with Tyler on: Twitter | Linkedin