As parents, one of our most important jobs is to help our children to become the best humans they can be. A massive part of that endeavor involves us being able to teach them how to empathize with others.
Empathy is something most of us don’t really intentionally set out to teach, but is instead taught through our behaviors toward others and our children. With the right mindset, though, you can be intentional in your efforts to help encourage your child to be more empathetic, compassionate, and kind. Below, I will go over 9 parenting behaviors that will help you to shape your little ones into empathetic individuals.
1. Validate their emotions.
When your child comes to you upset, do not invalidate them by saying things like, “Oh, it’s no big deal, stop crying,” and instead, listen to them. Hear them when they express their emotions and help them to work through their emotions.
2. Use feelings words.
When feelings arise, use words to describe them. For example, when it’s nap time and your toddler starts screaming, say, “I can see you are angry. And that’s okay.” Or, when you notice they are happy, you would label it as such. While they won’t get the hang of feelings words, the more feelings you give words to, the more adequately they will understand their own emotions and the emotions of others.
3. Use real life as teaching tools.
Don’t miss an opportunity to teach your child about emotions. If you see a little girl fall down at the park and cry, look at your child and say, “Do you see that little girl? She is sad because she fell down.” Of course, there will be many different opportunities, so always keep your eyes peeled.
4. Model empathetic behaviors.
The best way to teach empathy is to model it. You could tell your child till you are blue in the face to be empathetic- but the thing is, kids, do what they see. So make sure you are walking the walk, too.
5. Allow your child to see you being vulnerable.
It might be tempting to hide your sad, anxious, and angry moments from your child. And while it isn’t good for you to offload your intense emotions on your child- it’s okay to let them see you in more vulnerable moments. This includes apologizing when you have done wrong or made a mistake.
6. Use hypotheticals to ask about feelings.
Teach your child about emotions by using hypotheticals. If you notice someone who is surprised, excited, or even upset- look to your child and ask questions like “How do you think they feel right now?”
7. Expand their area of concern.
While it is good to teach empathy within your child’s communities- it’s also good to expand their area of concern, too. What I mean by this, is that rather than just focusing on family or friends, use movies, the news, and other broader examples to remind your child that there are people outside of their own immediate reality and help them to empathize with them, too.
8. Emotion coach.
When your child encounters intense emotions, help them to understand what they are. Additionally, help them to deal with those emotions in a healthy way. This is a great way to teach them about empathy, while also helping them to develop their own emotional intelligence in other areas as well.
9. Show how children can show empathy.
Teach ways your child can show empathy. If one of their friends is crying, encourage them to do something kind for them. If you see a homeless person, walk over and give them a few dollars or an umbrella if it’s raining. These small gestures will help your child to learn how to empathize actively.