Friday, July 24, 2015

Some ways to promote empathy in your child

As a parent of a toddler, I am not an "expert", but I thought I would share some ways I try to promote empathy in my child.  I did a lot of research about this after my toddler had some behavior (which I found out was normal), in which I became a little alarmed at his lack of empathy.  Then I found out that children aren't truly able to develop empathy until they are closer to three or four.  But... it's never too early to start.

1) When we hear a siren or see an ambulance of firetruck, we try to say a brief prayer for whoever those emergency workers are going to help.

2) When my son either accidentally or intentionally (I'll be honest) bumps into our dog/cat or another child, I immediately show concern for the victim, then I talk to my son about how we need to respect others (especially the 6.5 pound 15 year old cat).

3) When reading a story, or in the rare times he watches Sesame Street or another show, if something distressing happens to a character, we talk about it and discuss how sometimes things can make other people upset and what we can do to make things better.  Also, if we see someone upset, we don't ignore it, we try to do something to help, even if it's just saying a couple of words or saying a prayer.

4) Setting an example.  I'm not always the most patient or empathetic person (that may be an understatement).  I try to realize how what I do sets an example for him.  We live in a metropolitan area and unfortunately there is a rather large homeless population.  There is a whole other topic of giving to homeless people, but I think one of the basic things we can do is to acknowledge their presence.  They are people.  They do deserve acknowledgement.  Now while I do not want to contribute to alcoholism or drug abuse, one of my high school friends had given me the tip to carry McDonalds gift cards around to give to them.  I had forgotten about this for a while (there is also the concern of safety, especially with a small child with homeless people as a lot of the homeless in our area also are mentally ill.)  However, the other day was an EXTREMELY hot day and my son and I were out for a walk.  While I know our city has cooling areas, I also understand the problem of homelessness is multifactorial.  I was walking my son to a fountain and walked by some men trying to keep cool.  On our way back, I asked if they would like a gift card to McDonalds to get something cool to drink.  A man came over and gratefully took the card.  My son was a silent observer to all of this.  He didn't say anything (he is just two), but I know he was taking the whole situation in.  Hopefully he will learn the lesson that every person has dignity and you do what you can do.

What tips do you have for developing empathy in a child?  I'd love to hear them.  Thanks!

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