10 WAYS TO HELP CHILDREN DEVELOP EMPATHY
If you’d like to help society kick the public-insults habit, help teach the next generation to consider things from other viewpoints. Here are some ideas.
1. Set an Example
If you complain about others behind their backs or pound out nasty comments on social media, your kids are virtually guaranteed to pick up those habits. If you’re kind and considerate even under provocation, regarding everyone as human beings with legitimate feelings and problems, your children will learn to do the same.
2. Listen Respectfully to Your Children
Many parents who treat other adults with respect forget to extend the same courtesy to their own children—and at any age, people who regularly get the message “You don’t count” rarely develop much empathy for others. Give your kids full attention when they’re talking to you; let them finish their sentences; and make a genuine effort to see things from their point of view.
3. Answer Complaints With Questions
When a child comes to you grumbling about someone else’s behavior, resist temptations to either brush off the complaint or automatically support it. Instead, use open-ended questions to help your child consider the other party’s point of view: “Could she be upset about something else? What could you have done besides get mad at her?”
4. Stay Focused on the Positive
Set an example of staying optimistic about, and seeing the good in, all aspects of life, and both you and your children will have an easier time finding the best in other people.
5. Help Your Kids Stay Healthy
Hungry, fatigued, or under-the-weather people rarely feel sympathetic toward anyone else. Ensuring that your children have healthy meals and adequate sleep also helps nurture their empathy for others.
6. Keep Schedules Uncluttered
Perhaps even more than physical illness, overload and hurry feed a “get out of my convenience zone!!!” attitude that could care less what others need. Don’t fill your children’s (or your own) schedule so full that one red light throws the whole day out of whack.
7. Nurture a Non-Competitive Mindset
Overfull schedules tend to go with a “must beat everyone else to the top” attitude, which—like anything that regards others as obstacles or enemies—is itself death to empathy. Instead of urging your kids to come in “first,” emphasize “doing your best to develop your potential and become a contributing member for the good of all.”
8. Expose Kids to a Variety of Worldviews
Encourage the consumption of intercultural media. And, don’t let fear of “bad influences” lead you to ban everything that’s not in perfect agreement with your family values. Instead, generate open-minded family discussions about why others believe as they do, what you can learn from them, and how you can show them positive examples of your own values.
9. Let Kids Try Out a Variety of Activities
Whether or not they come with direct exposure to new worldviews, new games/foods/clubs help children further internalize the principle of broad- rather than narrow-mindedness.
10. Help Out Others
Every few months, go out as a family to meet someone else’s needs, whether by painting a neighbor’s garage or joining a formal service project. Seeing others’ concerns up close and personal, you’ll all learn empathy hands-on!