The Importance of Teaching Your Children Empathy
Empathy is being able to put yourself in another person’s place, understanding how they must feel when things are not going well, and even how they feel when things are going great.
Another form of empathy is realizing that people may be doing the best they can with the resources available to them, but not always achieving as much as they would like to, or as much as you think they should be achieving from your vantage point on the outside looking in.
Offering understanding and compassion, instead of scorning someone because his or her education, clothing, or the neighborhood they live in may not seem as good as your own, is showing empathy.
There are at least a million reasons why we should, and must have empathy for the people around us. We do not always know all of the challenges they are facing, and in their place, we might well not be coping as well as they are.
Having empathy for people who may not be as well off as ourselves mentally, physically, socially, and/or financially, is a human trademark. Most creatures in the wild do not take care of babies born with any kind of disability. Often they have no sympathy for adults of their kind who become ill or injured either. Humans usually take care of each other to varying degrees, which is one thing that sets humans apart from other animals.
Being able to put yourself in the place of someone who has lost a child, or other loved one, someone who has lost a job, or whose marriage or other important relationship has failed, is a great ability to have. Someone who is going through difficult times does not need any of us to pile on and criticize them or judge them, making matters worse for them than they already are. What they need is understanding and encouragement.
Being able to empathize with someone instead of kicking him or her when they are already down is a good quality to have. It is truly a gift to be able to imagine in your own mind how other people feel, when they are elated over some accomplishment, or when they are emotionally in the basement because of a bad turn of events.
Ask yourself, how would I feel if I were in their situation? It is a matter of the Golden Rule. Criticize, judge, and treat people the way you would like to be criticized, judged, and treated yourself.
Would you want to be made fun of or bullied because the best clothes you can afford are worn and tattered, and maybe not so stylish? Children especially, wear the clothes provided for them, and young children have no control over the clothes they must wear.
Would you enjoy having people laugh at you if you had trouble speaking clearly for some reason, or perhaps mistakenly said the wrong thing? How about if you had trouble getting around? Would you want people to laugh at your efforts to walk? How would you feel if people made you the butt of their jokes because you are overweight? More people are overweight because of medical conditions than you may realize.
Having Compassion for Other People Is So Imporant
Empathy Begins At Home
By showing your children empathy, you are modeling empathy and therefore teaching your children empathy by example.
Most people are not born empathetic and must learn and develop that capacity and behavior. It is often as simple as putting yourself in the place of someone experiencing misfortune.
Of course it may not be that simple if one has never experienced injury, natural disaster, loss, poverty, or received empathy from other people when they did.
Likewise, if a person has never made a mistake, never said unkind words, or never even had so much as an ugly thought, empathizing with less perfect people may be difficult indeed.
People Who Receive Empathy As Children Are More Likely To Understand and Model Empathy
On the other hand, some people believe that most people come into our world understanding empathy, but because they do not receive empathy as children, their ability to have empathy for other people is neutralized or pushed so far to the back of their minds that it no longer functions. For these people it is necessary to reawaken the ability to empathize and show compassion.
Children who have empathy for other people do not bully other children. Adults who have empathy for other people behave differently than adults who do not. Empathetic adults are more likely to have concern for the feelings of other people and for the conditions and circumstances of other people, regardless of the reason someone is in unfortunate circumstances.
Learning Empathy Can Be A Challenge, Especially When One Is No Longer A Young Child
Learning to be less critical and judgmental and learning kindness and consideration for other people can be a real challenge for some people. Some people are fortunate to breeze through life with few obstacles and so they imagine it is just as easy for everyone else ambitious and/or intelligent enough to do the same. They believe that any person who tries hard enough or works hard enough can, and will succeed.
Unfortunately, that is often not the case. There are always elements in our society that are not so malleable, not so easily manipulated, and not so easily changed or controlled.
A person can do everything right by society’s standards and still fall on hard times and plain bad luck. There are no guarantees in life.
The world is full of people who work hard and who try every avenue they know of to improve their situation, but still never succeed in raising themselves out of poverty. Poverty would seem to be the most prevalent affliction all over the world, and of course poverty creates more problems.
Some people experience misfortune and instead of realizing other people have, and are going through similar experiences of their own, they harden their hearts towards other people who are struggling with a handicapped child, injuries from an accident, horrendous debts from a disaster, or job loss.
To Teach Empathy One Must First Understand Empathy and Possess That Capacity
It is important to demonstrate empathy to our children before we can teach them empathy. Having empathy for your children as they struggle with learning new skills, confront a disappointing turn of events, or experience embarrassment because of some social faux paw, will help them understand that everyone needs empathy and compassion sometimes. Modeling empathy for your children as their parent, and their first and most important teacher, is more influential in instilling that virtue than anything else will ever be.
Developing Empathy Is Important To Success In Life
Children Need To Learn That Every Person Has Feelings Just Like They Do
Children are usually very aware of their own feelings from the moment they are born, but realizing that other people have feelings much like their own takes time. Learning compassion for others and realizing that other people sometimes need comfort just like themselves, takes time and experience.
When parents and teachers show compassion for other people, and even for animals, children are far more inclined to model that same behavior.
Misfortune, or just an embarrassing situation can happen to anyone, and if a person lives long enough, it usually does in one form or another. Everyone needs understanding, forgiveness, tolerance, and a helping hand from time to time. Everyone makes bad decisions at one time or another, and sometimes those bad decisions bring misfortune. Children need to learn this lesson so that they do not form the wrong belief that only people inferior to themselves experience misfortune.
Children need to realize that one day they may themselves need understanding, forgiveness, or a helping hand, and so it makes sense to offer one to other people when they can. What goes around comes around, so I have heard.
Even children can make a difference in someone else’s life, or in many lives. Just one person can sometimes change the world. Everyone gets countless opportunities to show compassion and understanding throughout their lives.
Including children in volunteer efforts whenever possible will help them realize that everyone is not so fortunate as they are themselves, and that as humans they have a responsibility to make the world a better place.
My own daughter began volunteering on her own when she was eleven years old. It was her idea to do it and her choice of what she wanted to do. She volunteered at the local library helping to shelve returned books, make bulletin boards, and do whatever she could to lighten the load for librarians.
After working at the library for a couple of years, my daughter decided she wanted more challenge. She applied to work at our local Friends Of the Family office. As you probably know, Friends Of the Family provides services for displaced and battered women and children.
At fourteen, my daughter, through her own efforts, applied to work as a volunteer at a local farm called Riding Unlimited. This organization provides therapy for mentally, physically, and emotionally handicapped people of all ages through learning to ride a horse, or drive a horse drawn carriage. Animals can help immeasurably with emotional and physical therapy.
These last 2 volunteer jobs gave my daughter great opportunities to see that everyone does not have an easy life and that many people struggle everyday with a variety of problems. Young people and children can make a difference.
Being capable of empathy and compassion for other people is a valuable quality for all people to have. Help your child(ren) develop this virtue. It will serve him or her well all of their lives.
There is so much good information in this video -- it is worth the time to watch and take notes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 C E Clark