“Empathy, the ultimate human trait…”
I read the above quote by Mary Gordon, who is the founder of Roots of Empathy, a non-profit organization that offers empathy-based programs for children. I highly recommend her article entitled “Sowing Seeds of Empathy,” which appears in the November/December issue of Exchange magazine.
Mary states that, “Love grows brains.” We talk about the many vital experiences that we need or want to provide for our children. But what we know for sure is that our efforts are in vain without a foundation of love, acceptance, and genuine compassion.
Empathy is caught, not taught. Children learn through relationships. They feel confident to explore the world around them when they feel safe, valued, loved, and nurtured. Children are born programmed for empathy, but empathy either thrives or fades away through their attachment relationships with those who love and care for them.
Here are a few very simple tips:
1. Understanding his own emotions as well as the emotions of others is an important step for a young child. Help your child by labeling emotions. Consider making a chart that lists various feelings and then discussing one feeling each week.
2. Praise specific empathetic behaviors. For example, “You were so kind when you gave Mark a hug because he was sad.”
3. Encourage your child to talk about her emotions and express simple, appropriate feelings that you encounter. “I felt happy when I saw the beautiful flower,” or “I felt so sad when I hurt my finger.”
4. Point out the empathetic actions of others to your child. “Look how that young man is helping the lady with her cart. That is so kind.” Or “Did you see how that little girl gave her friend a big hug when she was crying? She cares about her friend’s feelings.” Ask your child to describe how she thinks that person might feel?
5. Model desired behavior.
Kahlil Gibran said, “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolutions.”
Let’s teach our children to be strong and resolute.
Written by Donna McClintock, COO with Children’s Choice Learning Centers, Inc.