We live in a world where empathy is more important than ever. Empathy is important because it is our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand things from their vantage point.
While empathy is a complex skill to develop, it is not a difficult thing to teach a child, if you start early and you act intentionally. Every moment you have with your child is an opportunity to teach them how to live more empathetically and harness compassion from within. Here are 10 genius parenting hacks for raising an empathetic child.
1. Model it.
The number one tip for teaching your child empathy is to model it, not only toward others, but especially toward your children. At the end of the day, the way you act and interact with your children will be the number one factor in how they turn out. Why? Because kids pay attention to how we act and interact with the world around us.
2. Help them practice reading emotions.
Practice makes perfect. One helpful way to teach empathy is to practice helping your child read emotions. For example, if you see a child that dropped their ice cream cone at the park, and they are crying, ask your child how they think that child is feeling.
3. Label emotions to expand their emotional vocabulary.
Throughout your child’s life, you should be labeling emotions that you observe, to help them build their emotional vocabulary. If you see someone who is angry, point that out. If you see someone who is the sad and upset, point that out.
4. Point out acts of kindness.
It’s important to make a big deal about the right things. So, whenever you see someone doing something kind or compassionate, do not miss the opportunity to teach your child about compassion.
5. Read stories about feelings.
Use reading time as a teaching time to teach about feelings. Some great books for this are ‘My Many Colored Days,’ by Dr. Seuss, How Are You Peeling by Saxton Freymann, and Feelings by Aliki.
6. Use ‘I’ messages.
‘I’ phrases are especially helpful because they teach self-awareness. “I don’t like it when you yell at me, it hurts my feelings.”
7. Validate your child’s difficult emotions.
When your child comes to you with difficult emotions, do not turn them away. Don’t tell them to stop crying, Don’t tell them that they are fine. Instead, listen to them, validate their emotions, and help them understand what they are going through.
8. Use pretend play.
Pretend play is perfect for teaching toddlers empathy. An example of this is saying that your stuffed bear doesn’t want to take turns with his friend, the stuffed puppy. Now, ask your child, how do you think the stuffed puppy feels.
9. Think through the use of ‘I’m sorry.”
A lot of times, we use the phrase ‘I’m sorry,” with our toddlers a lot. However, toddlers don’t always understand this phrase. Instead of saying ‘I’m sorry,” focus on the feelings of the other person. So, if your toddler hit their friend with a ball, instead of rushing them to say ‘I’m sorry,” say, “Look at Sandra, she is crying and rubbing her arm where you hit her. Let’s make sure she is okay.”
10. Be patient.
It will take time to teach empathy. It won’t happen overnight. So, don’t expect massive changes in just a few days.