My four-year-old and I recently attended a birthday party. Everything was fine till the three-tier cake featuring ‘Spiderman’ arrived. Most children went bonkers much to the dismay of the host and the birthday boy.
A few of them took the liberty of licking bits from the corner of the cake to which my little one said, “Don’t lick, it’s his cake!” pointing at the birthday boy.
In turn, the birthday boy gave my son a beaming grateful smile.
What do you think happened? It was my son empathising!
Empathy is being considerate about someone else’s feeling. Putting oneself in other person’s shoes and being compassionate. It’s a life skill!
Although parents don’t overtly train their children to empathise, I think, as I ponder over my son’s reaction, we must teach empathy to them. It’s not impossible!
1) Constructive instructions
A mother of two, Manisha pets four different breeds of dogs. Since her youngest is just 2, she hadn’t expected him to understand how the dogs feel when he plays roughly with them.
One day, her little boy spotted an injured dog on the road and insisted that they stop. He then told his mother, “Mom, doggie hurt, give medicine, be careful… soft!”
It’s amazing to see how the little one has learnt to empathise with the dogs’ feelings. This proves that constructive instructions and actions never go wasted. If we keep introducing our children to emotions and help them identify feelings, we can all produce a generation of empathising human beings.
2) Response to emotions
Your child tells you about a friend not having fared well in the examination. What can you do? Immediately explain the emotions involved therein. Then, go on to explain the correct response to such emotions—care, concern, and encouragement are the ideal responses to the emotion of feeling ‘low.’
Parents should help children respond to emotions. This is the best way to teach empathy via communication.
Ensure that you tell your children the correct names of emotions. Don’t assume that they are too young to understand. Sadness, an emotion that we always try to hide, is a part of life. It’s better if you introduce it to your kids so that they can face it better in the real world.
Remember that talking about sadness and being sad are two different and unrelated things!
3) Demonstrate empathy
It’s a simple manifestation of the adage ‘What you sow is what you reap.’ Simply put, empathy can be taught to children by being empathetic parents. If you really understand your child’s feelings and demonstrate solidarity as a family, he/she will deal with the life situations in the same way.
A working mom, Giselle spends a lot of time away from her children—a thing they hate about her job as they miss her terribly when she isn’t around. Over a certain weekend, her younger son was to go for a school picnic while the rest of the family was on leave. Giselle teasingly told him to cancel his picnic as she would miss him and would be very sad without him. He simply responded, “Don’t be funny mamma! Just because I’m going does not mean I will not miss you. I will be back soon and then we will have fun together!”
At that, Giselle smiled, hugged him, and responded, “You remember these words the next time you’re feeling sad and I’m in office. Because even when mamma is away, she always misses and loves you!”
Psychiatrists believe that drama helps in understanding empathy. You can ask your child to enact certain situations to teach him/her understanding and compassion.
Here, role reversal will also do a fun and perfect job. While you play the role of your child, he/she can be a parent.
Once the role-play is over, you can explain actions and reactions to your child. You might also get to experience your sharp reactions when your child acts like you. A good way to check yourself don’t you think?
Hamid’s 10-year-old often joins him at his fruit cart. One can spot him giving suggestions to his father’s customers regarding how a certain fruit will turn out.
He’ll encourage people to buy apples on a certain day, and on the other tell them that apples are not so great and that they should buy them only if they really need apples at home.
I have never seen Hamid getting disappointed with his son telling the truth and affecting his sales. I wonder why?
Perhaps, Hamid wants his son to be honest. Maybe he wants him to understand the customer’s predicament. Maybe he wants his son to empathise!
Empathy is a lot about being honest in a given situation and understanding how the other party might get affected.
Formal education has little to do with empathy. Education and schooling can help in fine-tuning, but only parents can actually instil it deep within.
5. Give and take of responsibility
Give your child the responsibility to take decisions for the family. They can be minor day-to-day decisions. Here, you should highlight the emotions involved in decision making, while handing over responsibility.
When you give children room to make decisions, they try getting into your shoes and act accordingly. This lays the foundation for empathy and consideration.
Make sure you don’t give them a free run about their play time though as it might backfire!
6. Don’t commercialise empathy
If you want to bring up a happy human being, empathy is important! If you want to live in a peaceful world, empathy is important! If you want your children to support you when you need them, empathy is a must! This proves that empathy is not one-dimensional and cannot be monetised.
Parents should not attach any reward or value to empathising. Children will either empathise or not empathise as per what you teach them and how they feel. Don’t tell them they will be rewarded on being empathetic. Emotions cannot be valued against money.
Empathetic children don’t have emotional outbursts and lead a balanced life. If parents are able to provide this balance to their children, isn’t it reward enough?
Have you come across instances where kids have been empathetic? Share such experiences in the ‘Comments’ section below.
90% of a child’s permanent foundation for brain development occurs in the early years according to Rauch Foundation. An overuse of gadgets can only stunt this growth and cause a negative impact on the child’s overall development.
If your child is spending more time swiping and scrolling, instead of interaction with the real world, you need to act before it’s too late.
Find out if your child is being meaningfully and positively engaged by taking this simple quiz.