The recent occurrences of tragedy, death and unrest in the world have shaken many families to the core. While wanting to protect our families from such news, we also can be thinking about what we can do as parents and extended families to help raise children to be more empathic and have the skills to help make our community safer, more caring and calmer. By developing these skills early in life, parents have the ability to create a kinder world. One may believe that children must be sympathetic toward other children to be kind. Rather, knowing how to be empathic is much more effective. Being sympathetic is saying, “I am sorry” or commenting about a condition, whereas being empathetic is walking in their shoes, understanding the same emotions and seeing another person’s situation from their perspective.
Recognizing the steps to developing empathetic behavior helps to develop strong self-regulation by feeling that pain is uncomfortable and unpleasant. Parents can support children’s emotions by being their emotion coach: asking the right questions, reading social stories and acknowledging feelings. Engage your child in conversations about the causes and effects of different behaviors and how they feel when such behaviors occur. Find constructive ways to be able to have these discussions. Seize the opportunity every day from articles in the newspaper, situations at school or viewing unpleasant events on television. Talk to your children about how they feel when they see or hear about these events. What commonalities do they see between themselves and others? Help your children to see not only commonalities but also the wealth of different assets that everyone has.
Fostering multiculturalism and nurturing an appreciation for those who are different are important factors in developing worldwide views of those around us. Though your child and others most likely share many common traits, it is important to see other traits in people and why those traits are important to them. A child who knows and understands differences becomes more accepting of others. Being able to recognize different traits and commonalities helps your child become happier and increases academic achievement.
Reading social stories and listening to life stories helps children develop cognitive empathy—the ability to recognize characteristics in others. Read and discuss stories or situations that increase your child’s knowledge. Role-playing is another way to help children gain the skill of being able to read the emotions in the faces of others: feelings of sadness, happiness or pain. Face-reading develops a sense of morality in your child and increases your child’s ability to have intrinsic self-control. Intrinsic self-control (children knowing how to control themselves without outside reward or interference) develops a sense of recognizing right from wrong as the child grows, which leads to appropriate teen and adult behaviors.
Take the time to help develop this crucial milestone in your child’s life. The rewards will be calmer, happier children, who know how to empathize with those around them and react to events in appropriate ways, hopefully leading to a society that sees less violence, death and tragedy.
Anne E. Mead, Ed. D., is the administrator for the Early Childhood Education and Extended Learning Programs of the Danbury Public Schools. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact her at 203-830-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.