I do Care: 6 Techniques of Cultivating Empathy in Your Child
Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago indicate that the tendency to empathize is something that is innate in humans at infancy. However, it takes parental intervention for children to develop the full capacity and the skill to be empathetic. Here are several techniques for bringing up an empathetic child who cares about others:
1. Respond To Your Child’s Needs
Children learn about empathy as early as their infancy stage. When a child cries, becomes fussy or coos and receives a positive response from his parents, he learns that an expression of emotions triggers certain responses such as kindness, soothing, comforting. Studies show that neglecting an infant can slow his development of social and emotional attachment, trust and above all, his inclination to empathize with others. It is essential for parents to attend to their children’s needs appropriately; this is one of the most effective ways of teaching your child to be considerate of other people’s needs and to care about other people’s feelings.
2. Use Positive Reinforcement
Show empathy even when you are disciplining your child. Children will misbehave, but how you deal with such behaviour will go a long way in teaching your child the precepts of empathy. It is best to deal with misbehaviour in a calm and rational way. Instead of yelling at your child to stop misbehaving, hold him, look at him in the eye and express your feelings or your request that he stop the bad behaviour. Spanking is not helpful and it only shows the child that violence, as a way of dealing with emotions, is acceptable. Spanking may also encourage your child to fight with others when dealing with social situations. Many studies also show that in the long term, a child can develop tolerance for spanking and may in fact become more aggressive or defiant.
3. Allow for Expression of Emotions
Allow your child to express what he feels at any given moment without you interrupting these feelings. If your child says he feels sad, ask him why he feels this way. Make it a habit to ask your child what he feels and if there is anything you can do for him. Sometimes parents discount the deep felt emotions their children feel; but, even these little people have feelings and only when they understand their own feelings will they be able to understand other people’s feelings.
4. Reflecting Other People’s Feelings
It is also important to help your child understand how his behaviour affects others. For example if your child starts to whine and throwing toys when playing with his friends you could say, “I see that you are a bit sad. Is that true?” “Well, it’s fine to be sad sometimes but it is not good to hit your mate with toys. That will hurt your friend.” This is a better approach instead of demanding that your child says sorry for whining or feeling sad during playtime. You could also ask your child to reflect on what other people feel when he does something. If your 13 year old starts to gossip and exclude a friend, you could simply ask her, “How do think your friend felt when you excluded her?” “How would you feel if you were excluded by your friends?” Relating actions to feelings can help children understand the impact of their behaviour and thus to espouse behaviour that is less likely to hurt others.
5. Encourage politeness in your home
Children learn about empathy from home. Let your home be a haven of politeness, good manners and consideration for each family member’s feeling. Encourage your children to use polite words such as “please” and “thank you. Encourage teamwork and sensitivity so that your children are inclined to help each other, to refrain from bullying each other or partaking in acts that will be hurtful to their siblings.
6. Community Participation
Encourage your children to participate in acts of charity and volunteerism within the community. Children as young as 6 years can help with various acts of charity within the community for example by donating their old toys. The older children can volunteer in various community organizations including in church, at school, in nursing homes and any place that they can learn how to care for others. Charity sensitizes children about greater social problems and allows them to see the world from other people’s perspective.