Kids have so many emotions they are learning to navigate for the first time. Showing empathy is another component of good parenting.
Sometimes showing empathy is a challenge because they don’t always handle their emotions in ways that seem appropriate, rational or productive. Further, as parents we know that learning self control is another quality they should develop.
It’s hard, as parents, to find the balance. It is important to be sensitive and try to determine the time for empathy and the time for teaching self-control and perseverance.
Our children can tend to be a tad dramatic and can quickly move to whining and crying because they want their way. Children, throughout their life, often break into tears or a tantrum because they don’t have the words to express or the tools to problem solve.
When a tantrum ensues, I don’t express a load of empathy initially. We often do the trick we have adopted to stop the whining and crying in kids.
However, when the kids are under enough control, we take the time to identify their emotions and relate to their feelings through empathy.
The Importance of Showing Empathy
Empathy is an extremely important skill for your kids to develop. John Medina, author of “Brain Rules for Baby,” says it is one of the top two predictors of social competency.
Being socially competent helps kids develop relationships. Medina says relationships are one of the leading contributors to happiness.
How do we help our children develop skills like empathy?
Like anything else, we model it. It is very important for you to be able to demonstrate how to have empathy with your kids.
Now, I am not into coddling kids. I want them to be “strong and brave” at the appropriate times. I want them to develop a backbone.
That said, I also want to show empathy. I want to be able to cry with them, laugh with them and let them know my heart breaks with them.
Steps to Showing Empathy
As children are expressing themselves, listen. Then, describe back the emotion you think you see in them. It might look something like this:
“I hear that you were frustrated when Sam took the toy away from you.”
They might not even have the word frustrated yet, but make sure you give them that word so they can begin to recognize their own emotions.
Next, try and verbalize where this emotion may stem from. With younger kids, this can be hard because they may not understand the roots of their emotions.
Their challenge of dealing properly with emotions often result in tears, whining, shyness or physical outbursts. If you can get down to the root of the emotion and label it, kids can often cope with it better.
They may express that it doesn’t seem fair. They could be jealous. They could be sad or hurt about something.
Just because you recognize and understand a child’s behavior doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. It is simply acknowledging and trying to understand and label the emotions they experience.
To create empathy in kids, I also encourage you to try and help your kids feel empathy toward others. I discussed that more in my post titled, “How would you feel?” This is an attempt to help your kids try to look at situations from another person’s perspective.
It looks like this:
- How would you feel if someone said something like that to you?
- How would you feel if you only got one piece of pizza and went back and it was all gone because someone else took four?
- How would you feel if someone wouldn’t share with you?