A little bit of kindness can go a long way, especially in this COVID-19 climate with bleak news plastered all over our social media newsfeed. At times like this, it’s especially important to have conversations with your little one about topics like empathy and kindness.
Empathy is the ability to imagine how another person is feeling in a particular situation and offer help when needed. It’s the foundation of acting ethically, bringing about good relationships in the future, and vital for professional success. Empathy includes respecting others’ perspectives and compassion. This skill helps children develop social competence, and here are 5 ways parents can cultivate empathy in their little ones:
Undertake the role of your child’s emotion coach
Bear in mind that children cannot be expected to put themselves in others’ position and understand their feelings, if they are unable to grasp different emotions themselves. From the tender age of three, children can be taught to identify feelings and understand how emotions are being reflected through behaviours like laughing, crying, yelling and frowning. It’s never too early to educate your child about such emotions. Since emotions take place on a daily basis, find pockets of opportunity to speak to your child with everyday experiences and incorporate their feelings in everyday life. If they’re upset, talk it out. “I know you’re upset/ frustrated” can be a good conversation starter, and find out what makes them displeased. If they’re happy, share the joy and talk about it as well!
Demonstrate empathy for others
Be your little one’s role model, as what we do are often subconsciously etched in our child’s mind. They tend to quietly learn from the adults, and such imitation can be observed even in the youngest of children. This means that the way we interact with our little one and others also impact the way they behave. Go the extra mile and practise some empathy - it could be the simplest act of giving up seats for the elderly on a crowded train. Providing a basis of behaviour by being sensitive to how others feel helps children cultivate empathy. In the process, we teach them how to show concern for others.
Read books that model empathy and compassion
Books make an ideal gateway into conversations and broach on topics like empathy through a peek into the lives of others. A great way to start would be to sieve out books profiling different cultures and lives from your little one’s. While reading these, have some prompters on hand and encourage them to ask questions. Have them put themselves into the shoes of the protagonists and imagine what they would do and feel if they were put in certain situations. Discuss about how similar the situations are in comparison to their lives, despite the outward differences. Here’s a list of our recommended titles:
Practise pretend play
Don’t underestimate the power of pretend play. Try this out with older toddlers and verbalise thoughts about feelings and empathy while you play. Make use of props, such as stuffed toys, and create make-believe situations. Take for example, you could have your kid’s favourite bear plushie tell his friend, the stuffed dog plushie that he does not want to play together. These opportunities allow you to probe your child further and understand how they think. Questions such as “How do you think the dog plushie feels? What can be done?” can serve as good talking points.
Create chances for kids to practise empathy
Although kids are born with the capacity to empathise, this will have to be nurtured through their lives. Just like mastering a language or a sport, this requires guidance and practice. Taking a step back to consider others’ circumstances and perspectives helps make empathy a natural reflex, and over time, enables the little ones to get better at tuning into others’ emotions.
A possible scenario you could create would be to hold regular family meetings, especially when there are conflicts or challenges that arise. In these meetings, allow your child to speak their mind and encourage them to view things from different viewpoints.
There’s no doubt that empathy is a difficult skill to instill, even for adults. Take baby steps to impart empathy to your little one by setting an example. When we inculcate empathy in our children, we also cultivate their social and emotional development in the process. Being empathetic affects the quality of relationships your child shares with others, and is pivotal for future success. Head over to https://www.goguru.com.sg/ for more learning materials to grow as a person, together with your kid.