Empathy is so important that they are naming it as the most important skill that workplaces are now looking for in their employees. But what is empathy and how do we develop it in our children?
To begin with, let’s look at what empathy is NOT. Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy ‘others’ the individual. We are not sitting with others and feeling what they are feeling when we sympathise. We are observing from a distance and feeling sorry for them. Empathy is different. Empathy is vulnerability. Even though we are not the one experiencing the emotion, we feel the other persons pain because we have been there too. We sit alongside the individual, hold their hand and say we understand and we are there with them in the experience. We jump in warts and all.
So, how do we develop EMPATHY in our children?
First of all, children need to understand what emotions are and be able to recognise them in themselves. Looking at faces, recognising ways that our faces change and how emotions affect this, is a great start. We can also go further to see how our body changes when we feel different emotions. Practice it with your child.
Also getting into the habit of having conversations about how you are feeling and experiencing emotions. For example ‘I am feeling angry. Can you see my face is red and my hands are clenched in a fist?’ This models the behaviour for your child and opens up a dialogue about emotions. It’s showing them that it’s ok to feel all types of emotion, there’s no shame. They will then start to recognise emotions in themselves and with practice, be able to verbalise how these feelings affect their mind and body.
Other suggestions for developing empathy in your child is to read stories and highlight character emotions, ask the question, ‘how to do you think they could be feeling? How do you know? What can you see that gives you a clue?’ Look at the body stance of characters and predict what emotion they are experiencing.
There are also many TV shows that discuss emotions and develop empathy. One I can think of, for young kids, is Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.
Another way you can encourage conversations on emotions is through role play. Capturing teachable moments while playing with your child’s toys is ideal. Use dolls, cars, Barbie’s, anything to play out situations that happen in real life, recognise and discuss how the toys could be feeling.
If your child can recognise and verbalise their feelings, they can begin to see it in others. This is the beginning of EMPATHY. Once your child develops this important life skill, you will find it easier to communicate with them particularly during disagreements with yourself, siblings or friends. In another post I will discuss sibling rivalry and how important empathy is in diffusing these arguments.
I’d love to hear your experience with empathy and your child. Leave a comment below!