Simple ways to teach kids empathy

We all want our kids to develop empathy -- that essential knack for understanding how another person feels and responding with kindness. We want our children to grow up to be thoughtful, compassionate adults who are "tuned in" to the feelings and needs of others.

Fortunately, some simple, effective strategies can help empathy bloom as our children grow. Here are five strategies that busy parents can use:

1. Help your child describe his or her own feelings.

Kids need to be able to label their own feelings in order to understand how others feel. "Mad," "sad," and "happy" will probably be the starting point. From there, your child can learn words like "disappointed," "surprised," "excited," "scared," "thankful," "left out," and more.

So, when a child has a strong feeling, we can lay a foundation for empathy by helping our child put the feeling into words.

2. Help your child learn to read facial expressions and body language.

Point out facial expressions and other "body-language" clues to feelings when you look at pictures together. You might also "freeze-frame" videos to call attention to characters' faces and body positions.

You could also play a game of "Feeling Theater." List some "feeling words" on paper. Choose one and act it out, using just your facial expression and body language, and have your child guess the feeling you're trying to express. Then reverse roles.

3. Discuss how actions influence feelings.

For example, you could say, "Grandma looked so happy when you said thank you for her gift! Did you see her big smile?"

We can also point out how behavior mistakes affect feelings: "Did you see how that little girl put her head down after the other kids kept her out of their game? How do you think she was feeling?"

4. Provide models of empathy.

When we treat our child with empathy, we provide not only emotional nourishment but also a model of kindness that our child can imitate. It's especially valuable to show empathy when our child has made a mistake, such as knocking over a glass or milk or accidentally tracking mud into the house. We can also point out real-life examples of empathy in the news, in history, in our neighborhood or in our faith community.

5. Give plenty of practice.

Watch for opportunities to practice empathy. For example, when you're at a playground or park you might say, "That little girl looks lonely. Do you think you could see if she wants to play with you?" Or, when you're at home you could say, "Dad looks hot and tired. How about if we take him a glass of lemonade?"

Of course, the more we can involve our child in acts of kindness, the better. Cooking meals as a family to take to a homeless shelter or making get-well cards for sick relatives can help make empathy a habit.

TIP:

When your child does a kind deed, comment on it. "Oh, you're helping me clean up the juice I spilled -- that's being KIND! Thank you!"

It is suggested that putting a piece of paper on the refrigerator door where family members can record their kind deeds. Such a strategy can help your family create a "culture" of empathy and kindness.

With these small, everyday steps, you'll gently guide your child on the road to becoming a thoughtful, compassionate adult.

We at TAG Public School are committed to educate our students with the skills to achieve their highest level of academic performance, while fostering positive growth in social/emotional behaviors and attitudes enabling each student to achieve a successful transition from childhood to adulthood.

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