How to Teach Your Child Empathy

She prays for me.  She really does.  As my daughter and I say our bedtime prayers, instead of asking God for a new 3-storey Barbie dollhouse, she prays that God keeps me healthy and takes away my pain (that was on a night that I was having a massive headache).    I am left dumbfounded at the fact that at her age, she is able to display empathy- effortlessly, at that! 

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand how another one is feeling.  It’s being able to put yourself in another’s shoes.  It means, you’re aware that other people have feelings too, and react to certain situations in pretty much the same way you would.  It’s a learned skill which is borne out of constant practice. 

When a child reaches preschool age, that’s the best time to start teaching him the value of empathy.  This is the age when a child begins to connect his emotions with the feelings of other people.  He realizes that the world doesn’t revolve entirely around him.

Whether we like it or not, we parents are our kids’ best teachers of empathy.  We may not hold a master’s degree in empathy, but we are well-equipped to mentor our children in that department.  We should go easy, though, and not ram it down their throats. 

So, how do we exactly teach our kids empathy? We start with ourselves.  Teaching by example always works, doesn’t it?  We show our kids that we care about how other people feel.  We show them that we do not yell at the mailman or laugh at the old lady who tripped on the sidewalk.

Talk about hypothetical situations with your kid.  Say things like, “How would you feel if you had a physical disability and couldn’t hear, for instance?”  Let your kid talk about his feelings and how he would react if other kids laughed at him for his impairment.

Read books about empathy to your child.  There are tons of children’s books out there with empathy as the theme.  After reading with your kid, discuss how the characters showed empathy, and try relating the story to everyday life.

As sure as I look hot in this red tank top, so is empathy undoubtedly a skill children- and adults- should master.  Children who are empathic tend to excel in school, in social situations, and in their careers as adults.  Start them off young, and you’ll be paving the way for a lifetime of success for your kids.