Empathy is the foundation of kindness, and children learn how to be empathetic by watching their parents being kind and considerate in their daily life.
Most parents want to raise children who are kind, considerate people. However, being considerate to others means more than simply remembering to say “please” and “thank you.” True compassion and kindness comes from a feeling of empathy.
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What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to intellectually and emotionally understand what another person is feeling or experiencing. It’s what the old saying, “put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” is getting at. In order to be kind or considerate to someone else, we first need to be able to understand what that person might be thinking or feeling.
What Empathy is Not
Competition, selfishness, individualism, greed, bullying, and ignoring others are the opposite of empathetic behavior. Unfortunately, today’s culture rewards and encourages many of these qualities, and children may be pushed away from empathy in their school, sport and leisure activities. Parents who want to teach children to be more empathetic need to make a conscious effort to show their children the benefits of empathy in action.
How Parents Can Teach Children About Empathy
One of the best ways parents can teach their children about empathy is to demonstrate empathetic behaviour in their daily life, while their children are watching. Parents are powerful role models and children who have a positive, attached relationship with their parents will naturally want to do what their parents do.
This can start as soon as a new baby is born, by responding to the baby quickly and being considerate of the baby’s needs as a human being. By treating babies and small children with kindness and empathy, they will learn how to be kind and empathetic to others.
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The Value of Empathy
Empathy allows us to work towards social justice, care for infants and the elderly, give generously to those in need and appreciate the value of the interpersonal relationships we have in our own lives. Children who grow up lacking empathy will become adults who may not be able to think of the needs of others or understand the effect of their behaviours on a wider scale. In a shrinking global economic and environmental world, the ability to think about the effect of recycling or an oil spill on other living beings becomes increasingly important.
Parents have an important job in raising children to be kind, considerate and empathetic people, especially in a culture that values individualism and corporate profit. Teaching empathy doesn’t have to be complicated. Acting according to the values of kindness and respect towards your children and other people will demonstrate how and why it is important to be empathetic.