6 Ways to Help Children Develop Empathy
Empathy can be an extremely powerful quality that can help adults develop insights into other people’s motives as well as gain perspectives into complex social dynamics. Developing a strong and consistent sense of empathy is important for leadership as well as for making positive life decisions. It also all starts in childhood. A child without the right levels of empathy will find it hard to readjust into adulthood, as the fundamental habits may be harder to pick up. Below, we included 6 ways you could help raise a better-rounded, empathetic child.
1.) Use wristbands to “tag” emotions
Some teachers are now using color-coded silicone wristbands to help pre-school children understand emotions, which is the first step to developing empathy. The concept is to have children wear wristbands with colors that relate to their mood. This can also help adults change their approach to the child depending on how they feel. Two-toned dual layer wristbands are especially useful as they can be easily switched around to denote generally happy or bad moods without the child needing to pick up a new wristband from a box.
2.) Use storytelling and role-playing
Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool for teaching children life lessons and for teaching them about empathy. Stories can be used to explore the perspectives of different characters — villains included — and help children develop a more nuanced understanding of the world around them.
To take things a bit further, you can also role-play with your child. Role-playing makes it fun for a child to consider the perspective of certain characters and helps them develop the internal framework with which to practice empathy.
3.) Find opportunities to help them consider other perspectives
Your child will doubtless see adults and other children do bad things. We can’t always control what they do or see 100% of the time, especially when they are no longer toddlers. These negative situations can be good for teaching them the possible motives of people who do things the child knows are wrong. This can be a great way to help introduce nuance into how they understand what drives people to do the things they do.
4.) Validate their negative feelings — but teach them in the process
We all know kids can be little brats sometimes, especially when they don’t get what they want. That’s completely natural. What you don’t want to do is invalidate their feelings. This will only reduce their sense of self-worth and make them overly anxious around others, unable to harness their full potential.
Instead, you need to acknowledge what they feel — but without letting the “bratty” behavior slide. Use these trying times as opportunities for them to practice the empathy techniques they may have learned in stories and roleplaying. This will teach them to consider other perspectives before they think about expressing negative emotions.
5.) Set a good example and learn empathy together with your child
At this point, you’re probably thinking that all these strategies are easier said than done. And that’s completely true. If you’re a normal person, you probably don’t have all the empathy in the world either — and that’s ok. There is no reason you and your children cannot become better people together. Try your best and use your lapses as opportunities to teach your children real-life lessons they may use.
6.) Teach them the meaning behind apologies
Apologies need to have special mention because many parents tell children to say sorry in situations where the need to apologize is unclear to them. Apologies only have value if there is an understanding of the harm done. Ask them if they understand why they have to apologize and explain it in a level-headed way if they don’t.
It’s important that you teach them the reasons we apologize for bad things, otherwise, you are just telling them to use the word “sorry” as some magical way to erase consequences and responsibility. At the same time, this teaches them whether or not to refrain from apologizing purely to mollify someone when it is unwarranted. These are lessons many adults may have to learn as well.
The role of empathy in developing children into well-rounded adults cannot be overstated. It has uses in helping them to be well-liked and effective leaders and team players as well as helping them in future ventures and investments. Building the right habits for empathy early on can truly be one of the most important legacies you can leave any child.
What other strategies for developing empathy have you tried? Tell us!