Among the fundamental skills to teach your children is empathy. It not only allows them to go deeper than simple perspective taking; yet, also fosters their capacity to truly appreciate what happens to others. As defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings and experiences. With bullying and other cruel behavior becoming more pervasive in our society, our children’s ability to empathize can be the key to combating, callous action.
So, what can you do to teach your children empathy? The short answer is “lead by example.”
Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development and co-director of The Making Caring Common project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, argues that parents should emphasize caring for others through their own actions.
“The simple reality,” Weissbourd writes, “is that children will come to value what and whom we signal that we value.”
The project he co-directs aims to help parents raise caring, ethical children. It offers a variety of resources and strategies parents can use to guide their parenting efforts.
Here are a couple tips for cultivating empathy in your children, recommended by The Making Caring Common project:
1. Empathize with your child and model empathy for others.
This takes many forms, including tuning in to their physical and emotional needs, understanding and respecting their individual personalities, and taking a genuine interest in their lives. Children also learn empathy by watching those we notice and appreciate.
Consider regularly engaging in community service or other ways of contributing as a family.
2. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations.
If children are to value others’ perspectives and show compassion for them, it’s very important that they hear from their parents that caring about others is a top priority, and that it is just as important as their own happiness.
For more detailed strategies for promoting empathy in children, please visit The Making Caring Common website at www.makingcaringcommon.org.