Empathy is the ability to feel, understand and be sensitive to other people’s feelings. Empathy plays a vital role in maintaining healthy relationships. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, it is essential to teach your kids how to develop empathy. Here are some simple ideas and activities that can help develop empathy that your child will love to do.
Try a mindful breathing exercise.
There are many ways to teach kids empathy and how to breathe, and some of these techniques can be pretty creative. You can, for example, use a timer or count with your child as they inhale and exhale slowly. Breathing out for about five seconds is ideal, but your child should find a time that works for them. They should breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. At first, this may seem like an odd suggestion—after all, we don’t usually think much about breathing. Still, breathing exercises can help our kids become better students, athletes, and more mindful individuals.
Read a book together.
- Read books that help kids relate to others. When you read a story with your child, pay attention to the characters. Look for characters that are different from your child, and discuss those differences. Be intentional about discussing why others may treat the character differently and help your child identify what actions or values they share with the character. Additionally, it’s essential to balance reading stories that feature children similar to your child and those who are not. For example, if you have a son who reads books with male protagonists but never female protagonists, you risk sending a message that females aren’t as important in leading roles.
- Make it about them, too: Also, ask your child what he notices about himself about other characters in stories – how does he feel when something happens? Does he agree or disagree with a character’s actions? How does HE act when something happens? Have him talk about situations in his own life where someone was kind (or unkind) and how it made him feel when it happened.
Practice self-care rituals.
Because kids will only be able to show empathy toward others once they learn how to treat their own emotions with that same compassion, it’s essential to help them develop self-awareness and self-care. You can do this by allowing them to practice mindfulness activities, like meditation or deep breathing exercises. For example, you can ask your child if they are thirsty or hungry before mealtimes and bedtimes; allow them to decide whether they want a bath or shower; encourage your child to come up with rituals for when they feel stressed, sad, or angry. Additionally, make sure you model compassion for yourself and others.
Create with your child.
- Please don’t compare your child to other children or their work.
- Don’t criticize or judge your child’s work.
- Explain that mistakes are okay and can be beneficial to the learning process.
- Point out what is suitable for your child’s creativity and help them build on these strengths by asking questions like: “What do you like best about this? What makes this piece unique?”
- Don’t help unless asked, even if it is frustrating to watch your child struggle with a task or creative idea. Doing so will only reinforce the message that there is one right way to be creative, which stifles originality and exploration of ideas. Instead, ask questions about what they are doing and encourage them to find a solution independently, but make sure not to give criticism!
- Don’t worry about the outcome; focus on the process instead (instead of the result).
Explore new places.
- Could you encourage them to try new things?
- Show them the world.
Encouraging your children to explore the outdoors can be one of the best ways for kids to connect with nature and, ultimately, others. Take them on a nature walk, or visit a new park that’s unfamiliar to you. You might also take your kids to a nearby museum (or even one in a different city) or visit a farm or zoo. These activities will help young people realize that there are many different kinds of experiences and people out there in the world.
Talk about feelings.
Open-ended questions are the best way to show that you are listening, and they help children explore their own emotions. You can ask a child how they felt when their friend said something that hurt their feelings or what they did that made another child feel better after an argument. Help kids think about the causes of different emotions in themselves and others, like why someone might be excited or nervous before going on stage for a play.
Children need to know that it is okay to experience negative emotions. It’s healthy for them to feel angry at times, but they need to learn to express those feelings in constructive ways. For example, if your child feels frustrated because she isn’t getting the hang of piano lessons as quickly as possible, she may play loudly and bang on the keys in frustration. Encourage her to take a deep breath and talk about why she is upset with herself or with you instead of taking out her anger on something else.