Raising Empathetic Children
Published on: October 08, 2018
Are you raising nice kids? A NIST counselor and child therapist shares 10 ways parents can raise kind, caring children.
By Roslin Srikuruwal
A child’s achievement and happiness have become the standard for successful parenting. What about kindness and empathy? As parents, we can help nurture this trait in our children so they can develop a caring mindset that considers other people’s thoughts and perspectives.
1. Help children notice their feelings.
Empathy for others begins with understanding ourselves. The ability to identify an emotion in ourselves and to tune in to feelings is one of the most critical habits of empathy.
Talk about emotions with your child and provide them with the opportunity to show and convey their feelings.
In order for them to be able to identify the feelings of others, children must have an adequate emotional vocabulary. You can begin the process of expanding your child’s vocabulary bank even in the very early stages of verbal development.
One way to do this is to offer them the words to express the emotions you notice they are feeling. For example: “You seem sad” or “ You are so angry right now.”
As children get older, you can even talk about how you came to that conclusion.
Modeling this will invite your child to begin tuning in to the emotional cues of others.
2. Talk about your own feelings.
One of the most powerful things we can do to help a child’s emotional development is to be open with our own feelings. This includes the uncomfortable ones.
This can be as simple as thinking out loud and sharing some of your inner dialogue with your child. It might sound like, “Sometimes I get nervous when I have to go to the dentist, and I get butterflies in my tummy.”
Peppering these observations about yourself casually into the conversation will teach your child that all people have feelings, even parents.
3. Help your child notice other people’s feelings and prioritize face-to-face conversations.
Thinking with our eyes helps us identify how others are feeling. When you communicate with your child, be at eye level whenever possible. This way they can read your face and notice your emotions.
4. Children see, children do. Be the example you want your child to become.
What you do in those little ordinary moments could be powerful images for your child to replicate and adopt for their own actions. Let your child see you extend kindness to others and expressing gratitude.
This is not to say you have to be a perfect person. We all have moments when we’re not being our best selves.
Use these moments as an opportunity for you to reflect on how you could have been better. For example, “I got really angry, and I yelled at you. That was not the right thing to do. I should have used my calm voice, and I’m sorry.”
This shows that everyone makes mistakes and that we can always try to do better next time.
5. Ask “I wonder…”
Taking others’ perspectives is a skill that takes practice. One way to do this is to guide your child in wondering.
The next time your child has a conflict with their friend (or with you), ask them to pause and think about how they would feel if the roles were reversed.
You can also invite your child to observe people out in public or even in a movie. It might sound something like, “That girl looks sad, I wonder what she needs right now.”
6. Use moral reasoning to help your child solve their problems.
Kids who use moral reasoning have parents who expect them to do so. The standard we expect for our children lets them know what we value as a family.
7. Encourage them to restore, repair and mend it.
When children speak or act insensitively, give them a chance to re-do it by. Rather than punishing or shaming a child for acting insensitively, acknowledge that it was wrong and invite them to find a way to “fix it”.
Most importantly, express your expectations for caring behavior in the future.
8. Widen your child’s social circle.
Spending time with people from different backgrounds is a great way to teach children about the diversity of the human experience.
Not everyone experiences life the same way, and becoming close to people who might have a different perspective is a healthy way for children to develop an understanding of the world and their place in it.
9. Look for the win-win.
When your child is experiencing a conflict, it is a great opportunity to practice problem-solving. Help your child find a solution that meets not only their needs but the needs of the other person.
10. Take the missteps in stride.
Expect that your child will make mistakes and understand that it’s a part of growing up. Doing the wrong thing can be frustrating, but this is how we grow and become a better version of ourselves.
A mistake is a teachable moment. Learning and practicing empathy is a complex skill that develops at different rates for different people. Honor approximations and celebrate who your child is as well as who they are becoming.
About the Author
For almost a decade, Roslin has been working within the international school community to support children and families in transition. She is a play therapist and uses a variety of expressive techniques to help children express thoughts and emotions. Roslin is an elementary counselor at NIST International School, Bangkok.
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