Empathy is an extremely important skill for our children to develop. Simply put, it is the abilty to understand the feelings of others and to respond in an appropriate way. It is one of the most primary of moral fundamentals as it defines our relationships and the way we interact socially. Unfortunately, it is not something that develops on its own- Instead it is a skill that must be taught, encouraged and developed.
Children who are not taught empathy grow to be callous adults who have difficulties forming good relationships with others. Having a capacity for empathy now helps your children relate to others better. The benefits are many, the least of which will help them to achieve more in school.
Scientific studies suggest that children under the age of 18 months are not able to understand the concept of empathy, but by modelling the behaviour you want to encourage in them you are providing a good foundation to build on as they grow.
HOW TO HELP...
-Young children need to learn to name their emotions.
It helps them to make sense of their emotional world and is the first building block in learning empathy. Naming emotions allows you to talk about them with your child. You can begin to help your child understand what to do with their feelings and teach them such important concepts as how their actions affect others, consequences etc.
-Keep an eye out for opportunities to practise empathy with your child.
You could encourage your child to befriend the new boy or girl at playgroup. Talk about feeling lonely and being friendly and how that would make the other child feel. With older children you can discuss social issues and ask questions like, "How would you feel if . . .". Or 'What would you do . . . ". Perhaps you could let your actions teach the lesson. Take on some sort of volunteer work as a family, or offer your family's services to weed your neighbours garden when they are not well.
-Teach your child the basic rules of politeness.
Saying your pleases and thank yous is a concrete way to show respect and caring to other people. It didnt do us any harm!
- Children also need to learn to read non-verbal clues about how people are feeling.
They need to be taught how to read facial expressions and body language- You could play a sort of 'Emotional Charades' game - where you model an emotion and your child has to guess what it is. Role play is another good way to hone this skill.
-Give your child chores to complete each day.
Research has found that children who learn responsibility also learn altruism ( unselfishness/compassion ) and caring.
The most important thing you can do to teach your child empathy is to model it yourself.
Try not to use anger to control your child. Easier said than done, I know, but by treating your child calmly yet firmly and above all fairly you are teaching your child an important lesson about caring and respect.
Take an interest in your child's social world- Ask specific questions about the people in your childs daily life. This reinforces the importance of relationships with others.
After all, no man is an island...
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