Empathize with your child and model empathy for others – Children learn empathy both from watching us and from experiencing our empathy for them. When we empathize with our children, they develop trusting, secure attachments with us. Those attachments are key to their wanting to adopt our values and to model our behavior, and therefore to building their empathy for others.
Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations – If children are to value others’ perspectives and show compassion for them, it’s very important that they hear from their parents that caring about others is a top priority, and that it is just as important as their own happiness.
Provide opportunities for children to practice empathy – Learning empathy is in certain respects like learning a language or a sport. It requires practice and guidance. Regularly considering other people’s perspectives and circumstances helps make empathy a natural reflex and, through trial and error, helps children get better at tuning into others’ feelings and perspectives.
Expand your child’s circle of concern – The issue often isn’t whether children can empathize, it is whom they have empathy for. As parents and caretakers, it’s not only important that we model appreciation for many types of people. It’s important that we guide children in understanding and caring for many kinds of people who are different from them and who may be facing challenges very different from their own challenges.
Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively – Often, when children don’t express empathy, it’s not because they don’t have it. It’s because some feeling—such as anger, shame or envy—is blocking their empathy. Helping children manage these negative feelings, as well as stereotypes and prejudices about others, is often what “releases” their empathy.
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