Teaching Family Values: Empathy
Growing up, I could see that the world was an imperfect place. I could see the hurt and pain that others were going through. I even asked my parents if Santa could bring all of the homeless children in the world a Christmas present. Most of the time, they’d smile and help me find a different way to help when I felt so small against all of the world’s problems
I see the same empathetic tendencies in my own daughter who is convinced she can single-handedly save every endangered species. Although I couldn’t give every homeless child a present, and my daughter can’t save every giant panda by herself, the motivations behind those thoughts are important for every child to learn.
Being empathetic—feeling for someone and possibly their situation—is a character trait that can be vitally important to healthy development, and might even be part of what creates change in our world.
President Obama once said that our country doesn’t just have a budget deficit, but also has an “empathy deficit.”
Part of changing that is to teach our children from a young age to picture themselves walking in someone else’s shoes and consider other’s points of view. Here are some ways to begin teaching your children about empathy.
Read books about diversity
Bonding with your child over a book can be a great way to instill some of those important life lessons. Choose books that will help your child understand different perspectives. Books like Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale
by John Steptoe give children the chance to see the world through the eyes of someone very different than themselves. Books like The Invisible Boy
by Trudy Ludwig, show what it’s like for those children who don’t seem to fit in.
Play games that foster empathy
If your children are having trouble grasping the concept of empathy, try using technology as a tool to help them gain a better understanding. Graphite.org has a list of the Top Games That Teach Empathy
that could get your gamer to change his or her perspective without ever logging off of their phone or tablet.
Lead by example
Children are watching us and mimicking what they see, whether we like it or not. So, make sure what you’re modeling is behavior you’d want to see in your child. Nobody’s perfect, but allow your child to see you practicing what you preach. Volunteer as a family at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen, and let your children see that there are many different types of people in the world, even some who need our help.
The experience might just open their eyes and their hearts.
Give them a chance to practice empathy
Once your child sees how to show empathy, it might be a good time to ask them how they think they can practice showing empathy in their own lives. While their ideas might be somewhat far-fetched, like wanting to provide a Christmas present to every homeless child in the world, we can help hone that positive world-saving energy into something more realistic. My parents took me to the Angel Tree that was set up at the mall every year, and we made a tradition out of picking several children and buying them presents. It made me feel like I was really making a difference.
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About the Author
Jessa is the Editor-in-Chief of Hooray for Family and the mom of three energetic children. She has a BA in Mass Communication/Journalism from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, and is a long-time resident of Central Texas. When she isn't writing and editing, she enjoys playing board games with her kids, teaching Sunday school and channeling her creativity into craft projects.