Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs we’re ever going to do. We want to bring our children up to be caring people who leave goodness in this world. But how do we accomplish that? Is there some secret that would guarantee our children turn out to be loving, good people?Well, no there’s no secret, but there are ways that we can instill good values and consciousness into our kids. One of the best ways is to practice empathy.
Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’.
You know the saying, ‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in someone’s shoes’ . . . it’s talking about empathy, saying that before we decide that we know about someone, we must understand their experiences, challenges and thought processes. The saying is a reminder to practice empathy.
Parenting with empathy and teaching our children to have empathy for others strengthens the bond between us and our children and helps our little one’s feel understood and not alone. Showing empathy to our children also helps them to learn how to manage their emotions while at the same time experiencing empathy helps our kids develop empathy for others.
So how exactly can we show our children empathy?
Every time we say something like “it looks like you’ve had a difficult day,” or “I understand how you feel,” you’re being empathetic. Putting your feelings aside and trying to see things from your child’s point of view is empathy.
Children inevitably experience STRONG feelings and need their parents and caregivers to help them learn how to navigate through the crazy and oftentimes confusing world of emotion. When your child’s feelings are acknowledged and recognized, those feelings lose their strength and can then begin to dissipate. When feelings are repressed, ignored, or condemned they don’t go away. Children may learn to detach from their emotions or express the feelings they don’t know what to do with through anger, aggression, self-harm or in other negative ways. Accepting your child’s emotions shows them that emotions are not dangerous or shameful but that they are normal and manageable. It also opens the door to teach our kids how to gauge negative emotions and how to deal with their emotions in a constructive and honest way.
Empathy helps a child get past the emotion so they can begin to think of solutions themselves. As parents, we don’t want to solve our children’s problems, but instead guide them through the process of identifying why they’re feeling the way they are and then help them come to a possible solution or understanding. Keep in mind that showing empathy or an understanding of your child’s emotions is not the same as agreeing with them. You can show your child that you understand why he is so upset about his little sister breaking his toy but at the same time that you don’t agree with or condone in any way him hitting his little sister in response. The key is in helping your child to feel that he is understood – and then leading him through the process of exploring how he could have handled the situation differently or towards finding a solution. Also helping him to understand how his sister felt, having empathy for his sister. This doesn’t mean that consequences or discipline go out the window – only that you’re using the moment as a teachable opportunity.
Empathy is something that we all need to learn and practice. Showing our children empathy, and teaching them to have empathy for others is one of the greatest gifts of emotional intelligence we can give them, and those around them.
If you want to read more on Empathy, click on the links below.