Raising empathetic children: three easy tips to try today

Dec 9 2016, 8:54 pm

When endeavouring to raise children who are compassionate and open-minded, many parents seek to teach values of empathy and inclusiveness. Perhaps never before have these values been thrust more into the limelight than in recent months, as a divisive election unfolded south of the border.

A public dissection of these values has increased the importance of parents finding everyday opportunities to talk about these notions with children, so that they become an intrinsic part of how children learn to navigate their experiences and interactions.

Foster empathy through accountability

Empathy shapes our ability to connect with one another. We can nurture empathy within children by helping them understand how their choices may impact others. Do not be afraid of letting your children know if their actions have caused distress – be gentle yet transparent when expressing reactions to your children’s behaviours.

Encourage perspective taking through questions such as:

  • “What do you think that your actions made that person think/feel?
  • Was there a different choice you could have made, when thinking about the other person’s feelings?”

Hold children accountable for their choices. Childhood is a critical window for learning. While we not expect children to always make the best choices, this does not give them license to move past their choices without reflection or taking responsibility. Ultimately, we can support our children in taking ownership of their impact on the world.

Teach respectful communication, even during times of distress

Moments of parent-child conflict are valuable opportunities to teach children that, despite disagreement, it is never appropriate to treat others without respect- in fact, without respect, it is far less likely the conflict will be resolved. Instead, children can be coached on what respect looks like and how to self-soothe and express their perspectives calmly.

A key goal is to teach children that, while they are entitled to their emotions, they are not entitled to be disrespectful when trying to express those emotions.

Be open to differences.

Children are not born fearful of what is different. More often, children express a sense of curiosity about those who seem, in some way, different from them; however, their questions are frequently shut down. Do not dismiss your children’s questions about those who appear different. Curiosity can function as a fork in the road: when met with openness, curiosity can breed understanding and inclusivity.

When left unaddressed, however, unanswered questions can devolve into fear and misconceptions. As human beings, we share tremendous common ground and our differences enrich our communities-children should be engaged in conversation to this effect.

Image: Children talking / Shutterstock

Image: Children talking / Shutterstock

Finally, many parents today are struggling to figure out how to move forward in their discussions of empathy and inclusiveness when these values are not reflected to their children by peers or by those in positions of power.

Consider having the following conversations with your children:

You can make choices that reflect the world you want to live in

Help others, and be kind, thoughtful, empathetic, and inclusive. If you feel discouraged by others’ choices, remember how much power exists in the your choices and in your voice.

Parents, you are your children’s most important role models

While popular or public figures may not always model what we hope for our children to see, remember that we can show our children the very best of ourselves. We can model what it means to be kind, empathetic, and inclusive, to uphold these values within our families and our communities, and to consciously notice the good in others and in the world.

Written for Daily Hive by registered psychologist and the Clinical Director of Yellow Kite Child Psychology, Soraya Lakhani.

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