The Importance of Empathy in Children

On the news, I heard about some schools that wanted to have classes on empathy because children are lacking in this area. Bullying in schools is not going away, and now, it seems worse since its being videotaped and put on social media while children stand around and watch. It’s not that bad everywhere, but many children, from the bullies to the mean girls, need a refresher course in empathy.

The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another and respond in a thoughtful way. It’s really that simple. Some children seem to naturally have more empathy than others, so this skill needs to be taught to children if it is not obvious to them.

Conflict and situations that are difficult are handled better by a child with empathy. Children with empathy will be more apt to step in and help someone in need, and they are less likely to be a bully themselves. An empathic child is well-rounded, has better coping skills, and has an easier time growing into a well-balanced adult. It is never too late to start training children to be empathic.

Children learn by example, so demonstrating empathy to your children is helpful. When they are knocked down, help them up and let them know it happens to all of us. Staying calm when your child is having a temper tantrum can be hard, but this can diffuse the situation so you can talk them through it. Being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding role out there, and every parent has trying times with their children. Children need to be heard and helped or directed when things are hard for them. Children who have close relationships with their parents and talk through their issues tend to show more empathy towards others.

Some children need to be taught empathy, perhaps because they have trouble identifying their feelings. They can be encouraged to discuss their feelings and how a situation made them feel. Help them to understand and label their feelings, positive and negative. Discussing possible solutions to help in a situation is good. Children who have the responsibility of caring for a family pet or to community service projects are taught to be responsible and to care for people other than themselves.

We can’t solve every problem for our children, nor should we. But guiding them in the right direction can help until they are able to make the right decisions and choices themselves. Stop-Think-Act is a great tool to help children to think through a situation.