I enrolled my child in a private elementary school thinking that the school would be able to embed all the necessary values she would need to grow up to be a decent human being. How wrong I was. The truth is these values should be cultivated in our children from the moment they can interact–from the moment they were born, or maybe even from the moment they were kicking in our tummies. Empathy is one of these key human and ethical values. Without it, there’s not much hope for anything else. The bad news is that it’s pretty challenging to be a good parent and teach empathy to your child. The good news is that it’s not impossible.
Be a model
Children don’t learn from whatever dogma you give them. They learn from example. If you want your child to empathize, you need to empathize with your child. If s/he got hurt, instead of not validating the feeling of hurt, kneel down, ask her where the “booboo” is, and comfort her. You also need to make sure that you naturally exhibit empathy for other people too. If you see that your partner feels tired, do something to alleviate the discomfort. Help out. Your child is always watching and will imitate how you empathize with him/her and other people.
Teach your child to care
Making an effort to make a lesson about caring for others in daily situations can help a great deal. For example, if you see someone who needs help (even a stranger), you can be a model and teach your child to lend a helping hand. You can even support this good deed by telling her an anecdote or the biblical passage about the Good Samaritan.
Sometimes, the opportunity just presents itself. After being a good example, open your eyes to windows of opportunity. Certain situations are good platforms for your child to demonstrate empathy. For very small children, let them interact with playmates and resolve conflicts. If a conflict arises, acknowledge natural feelings of disdain or hurt, but guide her so she can put herself in the other person’s foot. Demonstrate how the value of empathy can help one resolve issues–but phrase it in words that a child her age would understand, of course.
Don’t be afraid of ethical talks
Encourage ethical talks with your child when she is a bit more mature. Sometimes, these ethical talks can also be done when your child is in preschool but you will need to adjust the tone to fit her understanding. Ask her “what if” situations and wait for her honest answer. If the answer is correct, ask why she chose that action and praise her for it. If the answer is not what you expected, ask her why she chose that path. Don’t correct right away. Find out the reason first and then very gently tell her why that was not the best path to take.
Get to know your child
Who does your child empathize with? Does she empathize only with people who are like her? Does she empathize only with people who are familiar or who matter to her? This will tell you a lot about your child’s emotional maturity. Encourage the expansion of her “concern”. Allow her to empathize with people with whom she did not care for in the past. Explore difficulties in empathy. Keep on encouraging but remember never to force.
Teach children self-control
Sometimes, it’s easier to empathize when you get to know your own emotional limitations. Encourage self-awareness in your child. This will help a lot when she interacts with other children in her private elementary school. Is she feeling angry? Teach her ways to calm down and assess her anger. Teacher her to go above her own emotions, breath in and out, and assess if her anger was reasonable, and what is making her angry. This way, she can better assess if her anger is something that should be acted on, or if she can let her own emotions dissipate because the trigger (the other person) was obviously also just being emotional. It’s easier to resolve conflicts when we realize that we all have emotional limits and not everything should be taken personally.
Los Gatos Christian School has been preparing students for the real dealings of life since 1977. If you are looking for a private elementary school for your child, contact us today!