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How do you develop empathy in young children? Can it be done? Not only can it be done but it is a very important skill we need to instill in our children. Today we are going to review how we raise empathetic & kind children.
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Empathy is difficult to teach.
In fact, some say you are either naturally inclined to have it or you’re not. Many adults struggle to show empathy nevermind young children. However, empathy can be developed and its easiest to begin to do so at an early age.
Empathy is being able to notice and recognize another’s feelings.
It’s not taking on their feelings, as with sympathy, but seeing someone crying and being able to understand why they feel that way. When coupled with a kind compassion towards other people, empathy is a vital tool in developing good people.
In my experience, in order to raise a kind spirited child, there are a few essential things that have to happen. Let’s walk through the various elements of this.
- First, they have to be able to name and recognize feelings. When they are very little, we start by naming the emotions they feel and see. This gives them a term to associate it with. For example, when your child is crying we might say, “you are feeling sad because you dropped your cup and can’t reach it.”
- Secondly, they need to learn about consequences. Every choice we make has a consequence, some good and some bad. The consequence of not finishing your dinner might be that you are still hungry. The consequence of taking a toy from someone may be that they don’t want to play with you anymore. Alternatively, the consequence of giving a toy to another child who is crying may make them smile. It’s essential we let them make mistakes to experience and form an understanding about the weight of their choices. Good ones and bad ones as long as they are safe… step in if its a matter of safety of course.
- Finally, they need to then recognize that their choices can affect them and others around them emotionally. When that friend decided not to play with him, it was because they felt sad and frustrated. The choice to take the toy away caused their friend to feel sad. What we do and what we say impacts our world. This is obvious to us but it is not obvious to young children. They need to gain an understanding of this concept.
With all of these realizations, children then have the foundation to apply empathetic behavior towards those around them. Only then can they begin to genuinely make kind choices with an intention to be a kind person… not because we told them to do so.
So should we not tell them to be kind?
No, don’t get me wrong, we play a huge role here and reminded them to make the right choice is part of our job. We also need to model kind behavior as well as recognize and name the kind choices we see. However, I hear parents getting frustrated when their young child seems to “know” what to do but doesn’t always do it. This is a totally fair frustration and one that almost all parents feel at some point. I sure have. Today I hope to encourage parents to realize that it will take persistence from the parents and a solid foundation before our kids act the way we want them to and do so because they genuinely chose to. So, be kind to yourself; parenting is hard. And besides, any parent reading about “how to develop empathy in a young child” is an incredibly kind and supportive parent who is likely to raise good people.
Ok, so about that tip that will change your life…
There is one book that I believe is as close to a ‘raising kind kids bible’ as you’ll get. This book is great for all ages and is by far one of the most impactful reads you could possibly have in your home.
How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids follows a young boy throughout his day and uses a bucket of water as a metaphor for his feelings. This book is a kids version of the best selling book How Full Is Your Bucket?. I would recommend you buy a hard copy vs a Kindle or an Audible version. This timeless book will help you build a foundational understanding of feelings, how our choices impact others and how to recognize what others are feeling.
With any luck, we’ll all do our best and raise a happy, kind and empathetic next generation.