5 Ways Parents Can Help Develop Empathy In Their Child
In a world that has become increasingly absorbed in practicality, fragmented relationships and lack of trust, empathy is now more needed than ever. This integral part of emotional intelligence is required to fuel connections. Empathy is the ability to recognize, make peace with and deal with our emotions as well as the emotions of others. Empathy is the ability to be aware of feelings - of ourselves, but also of others - so we can understand what it is like to be in their situation.
This is a skill that is at the root of positive, warm and close relationships. It is important to feel happy for the achievements of loved ones and also understand their pain points and triggers. This is so that points of conflict are reduced and even if conflict does occur, it can be resolved easily.
For a child to be empathetic, he or she must be able to:
  • Express and understand his or her individuality. They must be able to understand that they have a mind and can think.
  • Understand and appreciate the individuality of others. They must be able to understand that others can be and think differently for them. And that these differences must be respected. This appreciation will be able to fuel and nurture connections.
  • Recognise different emotions - whether it is anger, sadness, happiness, disappointment etc. It is only once they recognise these emotions that they will be able to handle them.
  • Able to recognise emotions that arise out of complex situations - whether it is saying bye to parents as they leave for work, or other social engagements; or friends when they leave. This is important to ascertain how they feel at these moments and then understand how they can deal with these emotions.
  • Can express situation-appropriate responses to these situations.

As critical as it may be to living compassionately, empathy is one of the rarest skills - and also the hardest to acquire. But it isn’t impossible! Parents can help develop empathy in their child through learning and practicing it intentionally. The first teaching ground of this is the home itself. The closer the bond between family members, the easier it gets to cultivate empathy.

Here are some ways in which parents can help develop empathy in their child…

  1. Empathize with your child
    With children, it is monkey see monkey do. For example, “Are you feeling scared of that spider? Don't worry, I will shoo it away!"
  2. Get your child to empathise with others and understand emotions
    Just as you make them feel that their feelings are important, they also need to understand that the feelings of others must be respected. Talk about how others feel. For example, “Kamal is feeling sad because you took his toy robot. Please give it back and choose another toy to play with.”
  3. Suggest ways to show empathy
    Expression of empathy is very important. It is a paradox that we find it very easy to express negative emotions, but struggle with the ones that lift people up. This must change. Suggest actionable things that the child can do. For example, “Your sister fell at the park, let's go and get an ice cream for her.”
  4. Be a role model
    When you want to teach your child anything, it is critical to practice it yourself. That way, the child understands what it is to express and feel empathy. Also, it is easier to teach emotions when you have mastered them yourself. 
  5. Read stories about feelings
    This tip really works for younger children. Reading stories is a way of indirectly reinforcing empathy. Choose books like My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, How Are You Peeling by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers, The Feelings Book by Todd Parr or Baby Faces by DK Publishing.

As parents, it is crucial to understand the importance of patience. Developing positive traits like empathy takes time. It is possible that a child is not fully empathetic by age four. But then there are adults who are not empathetic at all! Feelings keep developing throughout and empathy is a complex one.

Read more about parenting advice at Elli Junior, our community is always there to support you in your parenting journey!