Posted: April 5th, 2012 by Michele Borba
Simple ways to cultivate our children’s empathy all year round
In today’s world of instant updates and on-demand media, we are often bombarded with horrific images and stories from around the globe of people hurting and in need.
While our instincts as parents are to protect our child from those images, another option is to discuss these events that are beyond our control with our children.
After all, most of us want our kids to be empathetic, kind and caring young men and women. (Oh, how I hope!!) But empathy development isn’t something that’s just going to happen automatically in your kids. Parents must make a conscious decision to raise empathetic kids-and most especially in today’s sometimes cold, cruel world.
The good news is that studies show that our kids come hard-wired for empathy, but you, the parent, have to foster that glorious trait or it will lie dormant.
What is Empathy?
To take a step back, Merriam-Webster defines “empathy” as:
“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”
Basically, empathy is all about being able to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and that ability will reap huge gains for your child’s emotional, physical, moral, and cognitive development. The best news is that empathy can be nurtured in our children.
How Empathy Can Help Kids in the Long-Run
Raising a child to be empathetic has long-term implications, helping to increase the likelihood that your kids will grow into kind and caring adults. Who doesn’t want that?
As a parent, I know all to well the difficult reality of putting ideas into practice. It sounds daunting to “foster empathy” in your kids. But it’s really not. There are numerous little things you can do throughout the year. Find ways in your community where you can make a difference and make a change, showing your kids that change is possible. Or just look for opportunities in your own home or even next door.
Here are empathy-building ideas you can do throughout the seasons:
Use spring cleaning as a chance to not only get rid of gently used clothes, toys and home goods, but also an opportunity to teach your kids about the power of giving back. Donate these items to a local shelter and make sure your kids go with you to drop everything off.
With summer weather, unfortunately come summer storms. Using the news as a linchpin to get your kids thinking about giving back can be a great, timely angle. Help them work on what items they’d like to donate to people in need.
As a family, volunteer to help out an elderly neighbor by raking their lawn. Bake an extra turkey and serve it together to a family who could use a little cheering up.
Volunteer at a local soup kitchen with your family to help distribute food to those less fortunate. Or “adopt’ one family or needy child for the holidays so your kids focus on giving not getting.
You’ll notice that all of these activities involve the whole family. As I’ve spoken about many times before, it’s imperative that your kids see you giving back and the joy it gives you as they’re developing their own sense of empathy. After all, there’s no better way to teach a child a virtue than by modeling it in your own behavior. Keep asking yourself a a couple key questions: “Is my behavior the model I want my kids to copy?” Or what about this: “When is the last time I modeled empathy to my kids?”
Another easy way is to look for the family to get involved is at the grocery store with products that give back. One example is Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks “Win & Give” campaign. Now through May, specially-marked packages of Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snack contain a code that consumers can enter at WinOneGiveOne.com to see if they’ve won an XO laptop.
For every child that wins in the U.S., Betty Crocker Fruit Flavored Snacks, in partnership with the non-profit One Laptop per Child, will donate a laptop to a child in Africa.
You may recall I traveled to Rwanda with this program to help give laptops to kids in Africa.
It was a life-changing experience and not one I’ll ever forget. But I’ll save that post for another day. (But here’s just a hint).
All the best!