7 Do’s and Don’ts to Help your Family Build Empathy Skills
Does your child cry when you cry? Does she want to give a dollar to every homeless man with a cardboard sign? Or do you have the kid who noticed neither the tears nor the homeless person? The first child may have a deep natural capacity for empathy. The second child, not so much. Empathy is at the root of what it means to be human, experts say, and it’s at the core of all good relationships — personal and professional. Some children may naturally have more of it than others. But not to worry, empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another — is something that experts say can be enhanced, learned, and practiced.
But that basic dictionary definition of empathy misses the depth that leads to change and creates good relationships, says empathy and parenting expert Richard Weissbourd, co-director of the Making Caring Common project at Harvard University. Beyond perspective taking, empathy can dissolve boundaries and prompt action, he says.
Could a generation of children raised to be empathic change the world? Imagine a political landscape lead by empathic people. No hunger, homelessness, or war. Imagine schools filled with empathic people. No bullying. Not to mention, homes with empathic foundations will experience less conflict.
How do you foster an empathic environment at home? Well, to teach empathy you have to show empathy. A “do as I say, not as I do” style won’t cut it. Your kids are watching you — and they copy you. Try these suggestions to strengthen your child’s empathic muscles and avoid habits that destroy an empathic mindset.