Encouraging Empathy In ChildrenMay 19, 2021
“We as parents, as our children's first teachers, we're the ones that can do the work to plant those seeds of empathy for our own children.”
This week on the 3D Parent Podcast, I'm going to share some tips that you can implement in your own family to create an environment of empathy. I am also going to talk about things that might be getting in the way of your child's development of empathy.
Some of the topics covered in this episode include:
- The definition of empathy.
- Why empathy can't be taught and why children don't have the concept of empathy at an early age.
- Tips on how to create an environment of empathy.
- Four steps from Dr. Deborah MacNamara to keep our children's hearts soft.
While children are born primed with empathy, it takes a loving and supporting environment to help develop those empathetic instincts within them. The key to understanding empathy is to accept that they cannot be taught. It is a delicate blend of children's innate capacity, environment, and upbringing. So I encourage parents to reevaluate the environment where they raise their child and analyze whether it is a viable environment for empathy to grow and flourish.
Things You Will Learn
[00:07] Today, I'm going to be talking about encouraging empathy in your children. First things first, what is empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person as an effort to understand and support them. Empathy is something that we want to embed in our children's values.
[00:40] However, empathy can't be taught to our children. The feeling of caring is something that they personally need to FEEL. It is something that is not taught. The good news is that children come into this world primed for empathy, the bad news is that certain experiences could get in their way of developing their empathy. While empathy can't be taught, parents can certainly lay the groundwork for the seeds of empathy to grow and flourish.
[02:33] My first tip on how to create an environment where empathy can flourish is to treat your child with love and respect. Kids who don't feel cared for are not primed to develop empathy. Also, avoid praising or even rewarding a child for acting nice, caring, or being empathetic. This is counter-productive because it teaches them that empathy is a result of their performative act. Their act of empathy would come from the place of self-interest and not from their empathetic values.
[04:37] Stop trying to teach empathy at a very young age. Remember, empathy cannot be taught. Understand that while resources such as books and TV shows might help your kid familiarize with the concept of empathy, this would not unlock the empathy within your child.
[05:24] Explaining your own feelings as a parent to your child will not help them learn the concept of empathy. Instead, this will just make your child feel that you can't take care of them and that they have control over you. This might even encourage your child to become more alpha-like.
[06:32] Developmental researchers have assured us that empathy cannot be taught. The reason why is because empathy requires the ability to hold on to multiple-perspective at the same time. Children at their young age don't have the mental capability to do this. So give your child the time and space to develop their own sense of self before they can develop understanding multiple perspectives and feelings of others. Otherwise, we might get in the way of empathy development altogether.
[09:51] As a parent, it is our role to accept and support all feelings that our child may be having. We are responsible for making them feel safe even with the overwhelming emotions flowing through them. So we have to stop parenting methods that are very wounding for our children. If our discipline methods become too much to bear for our child, they will try to adapt by hardening their hearts and ultimately, preventing the development of empathy.
[11:45] A child who has a hardened and guarded heart needs help to let down those guards and to have those vulnerable feelings surface again. Fortunately for us, Dr. Deborah MacNamara from the Neufeld Institute shared five ideas on how to help a child soften their hearts.
[13:04] Number one, shield your child’s heart with a safe attachment. This is the number one goal in encouraging empathy. As a parent, work on deepening and strengthening your connection with your child.
[13:26] Lead your child into vulnerable territory. Hold space for them when they open up about difficult situations and let them ask those tough questions.
[14:14] Protect your child against experiences that are too much for them to bear. As a parent, you need to know when it's time to leave a situation, and when there is too much emotional repercussion for your child.
[17:34] Lead your children toward their tears and cultivate resilience. When kids are going through the futilities of life and trying to adapt to them, it is your responsibility as a parent to stay with them and guide them through this part of their journey. Emotions are to be felt, not to be tempered nor to be stepped down.
[21:55] As our children's first teachers, it is our role to lay all of the groundwork and plant the seeds of empathy for our own children.
Quotes From Episode 47
“You can't teach empathy, but you certainly can lay the groundwork for the seeds of empathy to grow and flourish.”
“Empathy requires the ability to hold on to multiple perspectives at the same time. So before the age of five, kids can't do this developmentally. They're too busy developing their own sense of self. And that's what they should be doing. That is their job at that age.”
“Empathy is complicated. It requires the ability to take another person's feelings on as one's own in an effort to understand that person, to make sense of that person, to connect with that person.”
“As a parent, you need to accept and welcome and support all the feelings that your child may have and make it safe for them to feel those emotions that are flowing through them.”
“As a parent, you need to know when it's time to leave. Because it is our responsibility to protect our child against experiences that are too much to bear.”
Let's work together! I provide 1:1 support for parents motivated to make positive changing in their parenting and gain confidence and increase fulfillment in their role as parents. If this sounds like it might be what you've been looking for, book a free consultation today.
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