Importance of having empathy with children and how to teach it

Empathy helps children to establish more positive relationships, but for this they have to grow up with empathic parents. We tell you how to be a good example.

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 07 February, 2022

We have all had the feeling that we live in a cold and impersonal world. In a reality in which, despite being surrounded by other people, nobody seems interested in seeing and listening to us. If we want to change this situation we have to start with education, working empathy with children from their earliest years.

Developing this skill will not only allow them to contribute to building a better future for all, but it will also bring them many advantages on a personal level. but for this they have to grow up in a home where their feelings are taken into account and in which they are taught to deal with their own and others’ emotions. Do you want to discover how to offer it?

Why is it important to empathize with children?

When it comes to educating, each family prioritizes certain values. There are those who consider that discipline is the basis of everything, others advocate respect and others for dialogue. And despite the fact that all these ingredients are very important, there is one that should never be missing and that is empathy.

Think that your children have come into this world being dependent on the adults in their care. They need them to survive, to satisfy their needs and to learn to manage on their own.

How will they achieve this if those adults are not willing to listen and understand them? Unempathic parents create a sense of insecurity in children, who will perceive that these figures are not available to them.

If you respond to your child’s tantrum with yelling or punishment, you may be able to redirect his behavior or silence him, but you will be sending him a dangerous message: it doesn’t matter what you feel, just conform to the way I want you to behave . On the contrary, if you act with empathy, you will help him understand his emotions and channel them in a better way. Above all, you will make him feel safe.

On the other hand, helping your child develop empathy is essential. This will allow you to build stronger and more positive relationships. with others, which will influence their health and happiness.

But also, it will help you deal with conflicts and frustrations in a better way. He will no longer feel attacked or offended by the actions of others, but will understand why they have done what they have done. Similarly, it is less likely to be part of the dynamics of bullying or bullying.

Lack of empathy is one of the sources of bullying. A child educated with respect will know how to respect.

How to show empathy with children?

Your children need your empathy to grow up healthy and happy. But in addition, they will learn from you to apply it in their day to day.

Remember that the family is the first school and that children learn what they live. Therefore, it is not enough to preach, but we must be an example.

By showing empathy towards your children you will be sowing the seed so that they, in turn, become empathetic people. The following are some guidelines that you can apply.

learn self control

It is not always easy for adults to react appropriately to children’s impulsiveness or emotional outbursts, but it is essential that we learn to apply self-control. When your child expresses himself, he does not need to be repressed, but that he be heard, understood and helped to channel what he feels.

Thus, parents must do the greatest exercise of empathy by managing to control their own emotions in order to attend to those of their children.

Listen and observe, put yourself in their place

To be able to put yourself in your child’s shoes, you need to know what he thinks and feels. For this you have to listen and observe.

Children can sometimes tell us how they feel, but their vocabulary will be limited and they will often be unclear about what is happening to them. Therefore, in addition to listening, we must observe their reactions and gestures and understand the situation that has led them here.

You can draw on your own experiences (saving distances) to understand them. How do you feel when your plans are frustrated? And when someone tells you what to do?

Expand your emotional vocabulary

Naming your children’s emotions is a great way to let them know that you care about how they feel, that you’re aware of them, and can help them understand. For example, if your child screams and kicks when you want to get him out of the bathtub, you can help him by verbalizing “I know you were very comfortable playing in the water and having to go out makes you feel angry, but it’s time for dinner”.

Don’t be afraid to use terms they may not know do not use, as frustrated, disappointed, excited, jealous. It is important that they learn about options beyond “I feel good or I feel bad”because this is the basis of emotional education that will allow them to understand themselves and others.

Working with stories, activities and games that expand emotional vocabulary will also be an excellent measure.

Ask pertinent questions that allow them to reach conclusions

Undoubtedly, growing up with empathetic parents will make this ability naturally forged in the child. However, we can strengthen this process by training the child in different situations.

For example, when watching a movie or reading a book we can talk about how you think the characters feel, what they think and need at each moment. What’s more, The situations of daily life can serve as an exercise: “How do you think your friend felt when the teacher scolded him?”, “Dad is sick, what do you think we can do to make him feel better?”. These types of open-ended questions encourage the child to reflect and put her skills into practice.

Dialogue is always the best way to reach agreements and manage emotions between parents and children.

Remember what empathy is not

Some parents are reluctant to use empathy in certain parenting situations because they have a misconception of it. There are who they think a excess of it can make children weak, capricious, spoiled or selfish. However, this is not so.

Showing empathy with children does not imply giving in to their whims, nor does it imply justifying their bad behavior. An empathetic parent can perfectly set limits and educate on the correct behaviors, but they do so based on understanding. Before correcting or giving a command, she takes the time to understand her son’s perspective and validate how he feels.

If you believe that the child should go to sleep at 9, having empathy does not mean that you let him stay until 10; but it does involve accepting his frustration or sadness at having to stop playing, letting him know that you understand and that it’s okay for him to feel that way. Then you explain the reasons why it is important to go to sleep.

In short, apply empathy with children it is an indispensable requirement of educational styles such as positive parenting or attachment parenting. The result is a child who grows up feeling valued and cared for, and who learns to consider others. The investment is worth it.

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