I am taking inspiration from Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop “What Brought you Joy Today”…This may sound a little bizarre but what brought me joy starts with my daughter falling in the pool change room. Just to be clear I am not happy that Maura got hurt but what happened after that warmed my heart and confirmed my children are learning empathy.
A Little About my Kids
Lucian and Maura are twins and they are close. “Close” as in they are the best of friends and the worst of enemies! A couple of years ago one of them was injured and the other went to grab a stuffy to help comfort their injured sibling. Since then this has been a regular thing with them – one gets hurt the other goes and gets a stuffy. It is sweet and demonstrates the compassion and sympathy they can feel.
Empathy at the Pool
I would have said that my children were empathetic but not 100% sure I could explain why it was empathy and not sympathy…until the pool. Maura slipped on the we floor and really wacked her elbow and arm during the fall. As I pulled her into my lap I could already see the welt coming up.
I had her wrapped up in my arms when I noticed Lucian looking around frantic. He took a few steps towards the bag shook his head and looked back at his sister with such sadness in his eyes. There was no stuffy to make everything all right. Lucian came up onto the bench, wrapped his arms around us and started whispering reassurances to his sister…just as he had seen me do.
The love I felt in that moment just glowed. This is what empathy looked like.
5 Steps To Develop Empathy in Children
1. Encourage your children to express how they are feeling
This is sometimes difficult for children. Actually it is sometimes difficult for any of us to articulate what we are feeling. I have found success in getting the kids to express their emotions in terms of what it is doing to their body. This works best if you give them open questions (what is the temperature of your body?) vs yes/no questions (are you hot?)
2. Respond to your Children’s Feelings
Help them articulate what they are feeling and don’t dismiss them. For example when a glass of water spills across their artwork. Let them know you can understand how frustrated or sad them may be feeling. Do not dismiss the feelings with a “don’t worry, you can make another”. Give them a chance to feel what they need to feel first.
3. Talk About Your Own Feelings
I definitely let my kids know how I am feeling – the good and the bad. I have shared what makes me sad and they have seen me cry. It may help to use the same descriptions on what it does to your body…like my face is hot when I feel embarrassed.
4. Talk About What Other People are Feeling
Classmates, TV shows, books…discuss how the person would be feeling in any given situation. You can take this further and ask what we could do to make the person feel better if they are sad.
5. Encourage Your Children to ‘Apologize’
Apologies are hard to teach and if it is not genuine it isn’t even worth it. It is best to lead by example and demonstrate how you may amends when you have made a mistake. A genuine apology needs true empathy behind it.
Given all of the unkind actions in the world today…we have to raise empathetic children. Please share teach empathy to our children.