One of the greatest expressions of humanity is the demonstration of genuine empathy. Offers of attention, concern, and reassurance acknowledge people, validate their feelings, and show them that someone cares. By imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we are more capable of feeling their emotions and understanding the motivations of their heart.
When we give empathy, those who receive it tend to pay it forward to others. It is easy to be compassionate when we are in a good, kind-hearted mood. What about when we are frustrated or upset? Parents should consistently showcase the empathy we seek to instill in our children; the more they witness and receive it, the more likely they will offer it to others.
Step One: Recognize Their Own Feelings
For young children, daily life often consists of big emotions: fertile soil for planting seeds of empathy. One thing that DOES NOT help children develop empathy is when we volunteer our perception of their emotions for them, dictating conclusions such as, “You’re angry!” To teach empathy, we must discipline ourselves to ask questions such as, “How are you feeling?” Rather than declaring OUR feelings about what THEY are experiencing, open-ended questions help children discuss their emotions for themselves, shifting the shared learning process to visualize things from THEIR perspective.
Fathers can share picture books featuring images of people experiencing a wide array of emotions, portrayals of anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, fear, trust, joy, and anticipation. When children can label their emotions, they can more readily learn about the importance of empathy.
Step Two: The Power of Why
Ask open-ended questions to help kids uncover answers to the all-important “Why.” When children tell us how they’re feeling, we can encourage them to expand by saying, “Tell me why you’re feeling this way.” As they reflect and share, they’ll start to recognize that certain situations or events stir up certain feelings as they start to learn about the cause-and-effect of things.
As always: Read, read, read! Stories provide an abundance of teaching moments, provoking meaningful conversations about how empathy can make a real difference, not only in their own lives but in the lives of others. Fathers can ask children to imagine how the protagonist might be feeling and why they might be feeling that way, helping kids recognize how they might feel if facing similar circumstances. The right story can instill lessons of empathy better than any lecture ever could.
We can subtly stir compassionate thoughts in our children’s minds by saying things like, “Bobby is feeling sad. How could you help him feel better?” When fathers encourage empathy in the present moment, we foster inclinations towards empathy tomorrow. Acknowledge and praise acts of kindness by recognizing them specifically, “Jonny, you brought your sister a Band-Aid for her scraped knee so she could feel better. That was so kind and helpful!”
Dealing with Bullies
Bullying is real. Many times, children feel uncertain, powerless, or assume someone else will intervene. When the forces of empathy, courage, and leadership come together, children become capable of discovering their inner hero to diffuse bullying situations. The bravery of children who refuse to be bystanders can help their peers realize there is tremendous strength in supporting each other.
It can be difficult for children, who are naturally egotistical, to see things from other perspectives. Fathers can introduce “Do-Over Moments” to remedy incidents of inadvertent insensitivity. By keeping watch for these moments, dad can give kids a second chance to grasp how their actions affect others. Be the model of consistency; the smart, intuitive, coach that our children deserve. With our guidance, one day, they’ll behave properly all on their own.
When Children are Uncaring: Teach C.A.R.E.
- Call attention to uncaring behavior.
- Assess how uncaring affects others, help children understand other perspectives.
- Repair the hurt they may have caused and make amends.
- Express disappointment for uncaring behavior; stress future expectations for caring behavior.
The Real World
Teach children that THEIR experience is not the ONLY reality. Trust fund babies face much different circumstances than children who are raised by parents with fewer economic resources—neither better nor worse—just different. Some children are born with a silver spoon, shielded from experiencing real life or forbidden from taking risks. Living in a bubble, empathy might be stunted. Conversely, children born into poverty might be raised in unstable neighborhoods, where a litany of real-life dangers pressure children to prioritize survival to compassion.
One of the most important habits a child can learn is to have empathy for others. If we do not teach them to have compassion, we undermine their prospects for living their best and most fulfilling lives.
American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, wrote, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eye for an instant?” Built upon a foundation of love, let’s instill in our children the superpower of empathy.
“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
—Romans 12:1 KJV
Feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Kids need words to name their feelings, just as they need words to name all things in their world. The Way I Feel uses strong, colorful, and expressive images which go along with simple verses to help children connect the word and the emotion.
Being human means we are full of possibility. We learn, we dream, we wonder at the world around us. But we also make mistakes and can feel fearful or sad. A colorfully and warmly illustrated book for young children, I Am Human affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves.
The unforgettable novel of childhood and crisis in a sleepy Southern town. To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior—to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.
One day, Color Monster wakes up and his emotions are all over the place; he feels angry, happy, calm, sad, and scared all at once! A little girl shows him what each feeling means through color. As this adorable monster learns to sort and define his mixed up emotions, he gains self-awareness and peace.
This beautifully illustrated storybook teaches young kids how to recognize and practice empathy through simple, easy to understand, real-life scenarios. Empathy Is Your Superpower features discussion questions and activities that encourage kids to talk about what they learned and use it in their lives.
A lack of empathy accompanies the dangerous self-absorption epidemic: the Selfie Syndrome. UnSelfie offers an empathy program to support kids from birth to college and beyond.
PLEASE NOTE: As an Amazon Associate, Fathers Truly Matter earns from qualifying purchases. The information in this post should not be construed as providing specific psychiatric, psychological, or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, or psychotherapist.