Teaching empathy: Evidence-based tips for fostering empathy in children
I believe that empathy is one of the most important human skills that we can teach our children. Empathy is not everything though, and shouldn’t be treated as such. The ability to be logical is just as important. Between the two, your children need the character and judgement to weigh when one response is more appropriate than the other. On a slightly different note, but still related to this article, empathy is an emotional and feeling based skill. While I find the science behind it interesting to read, I have a strong suspicion that the kinds of people looking for scientific ways to teach emotional skills are not very likely to succeed at the endeavour no matter what they try.
Empathy is the difference between humanity and monstrosity. It is a vital skill to living a life of happiness and fulfillment. Even leaving out the parts where it drives our desire to help others and make the world a better place. The ability to comprehend the motivations and desires of the people around you will make life better, even if the information is never acted upon. Understanding that the reason you were ignored by your friend this morning isn’t that they were being a jerk, but because they were likely in a hurry and had their mind on other things at the time. Ignorance is much less stressful to handle than malice. Empathy is the key to seeing the truth that very rarely is anyone out to get you. It’s much more likely they were just unaware of your personal triggers. On top of the world just generally seeming less vindictive when viewed through an empathetic lens, empathetic people are much more likely to feel a desire to help others. That brings its own kind of happiness to life.
Logic and empathy are often viewed as being opposite sides of a coin. People are either logical or they are empathetic. I disagree. Logic is an important balance to empathy. Teaching your children to think logically about a problem is every bit as important as teaching them to think empathetically about it. Logic isn’t a cold thing as it is so often portrayed, it’s a balancing factor. I could go feed a thousand homeless people today, and I would feel really good about that, but then I would have nothing left and likely be homeless myself. Alternatively, I could give a financially sustainable amount to a food drive once a month for the rest of my life, not go broke, and likely help far more people in the long term. Both would be considered empathetic decisions, but the second has that empathy balanced with logical thought. So yes, talk to your children about the emotions they see and feel. Help them build an empathy for the world and each other. Also, make sure you challenge the way they think about things. Give them reasons to look for better answers instead of just gut answers.
The key to teaching empathy, as with teaching most other behaviours, is through demonstration. There are a lot of good ideas for specific things to do in this article, but they are not the only ways. If you can talk to your children about it and show them what it looks like, then they are going to pick it up.
Good luck out there
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