Imagining how others feel or taking the time to recognize that something may be wrong is an action that doesn’t come naturally to all. Some souls are born more in tune with the world, just more aware, loving, and caring. It’s true that some kids are just more sensitive. Take Anna, for instance.
When she was a preschooler, we realized that if others got physically hurt, she also got really upset. It was totally distressing to her and still is, really. One time in CVS, she had a complete melt-down when Bo went in to get his flu shot. Just thinking about him getting a shot made her flip out and she began running up and down the isles screaming and crying. The workers in the store felt so sorry for her.
She’s always been and continues to be more sensitive than most when she thinks someone she loves is hurt. She was born like that. But, I also encourage empathy from my children and I do think they genuinely care about how others feel. Brody will often times tell a story where someone was hurt, embarrassed, or upset and say “he feels sorry for them”. He can be watching something and comment on how that would hurt or how hard something may be. He’s imagining what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes.
Exploring feelings and actions
Pretending it’s happening to you
Adapting your needs
You make a difference!
I was trying to think about what empathy really is, and came up with the above to teach my kids. It’s more than just imagining because we can make a difference when we act. The above acronym contains actions. It’s nice to think or even say, “Oh, how sad…”, but we can and should teach our kids to do something about it. That’s the difference between sympathy and empathy. And, we need more of it in our schools and in this country!
Too often, we are apathetic and think that something is so sad or wrong, but yet we do nothing about it. Why? Because it’s easier. We only have so much time in our lives. And, we only have so many things we can worry about. All true.
But, developing empathy in our children and showing them how to take the steps to help someone else will go a long way in our society where we are encouraged to be self-centered (let me take a selfie!) by the media and pop culture. Instead of always doing what’s easy and comfortable, I want to challenge my kids (at school and home) to take the next step to do something more: actions not just sympathetic statements. We can practice:
- Talking to our children about what-if scenarios
- Noticing and talking about the feelings of others as adults
- Modeling caring about someone else enough to go out of our comfort zone to help. Taking the next step will show them what it looks like to be an empathetic person.
Kids will be selfish. We are too because we are human! But, we truly can teach them to be better, more loving, kind, and empathetic people by just taking a couple extra steps to show we care about others. And, if you are an empathetic parent, I guarantee the empathy will come back to you. When I have a headache, Anna brings me a wet wash clothe without asking. And, when I recently got news that I would have to move schools against my wishes, Brody was quick to note how I must feel and then even offer advice on what other jobs I could do. I love my kiddos!
Do unto others as you would have done unto you.