3 ways to help kids learn empathy



Is empathy innate in children or is it a learned behavior...or both? The other day Jacklyn fell down and started crying and Sienna just walked right by her. I asked Sienna if she would help Jacklyn and make sure she's alright. Then I said, "That's what sisters do, they help one another!" 

Sienna is 3 years old and she is transferring out of the self centered stage of development. But I'm inclined to think that empathy is a natural, innate thing but it needs to be recognized and developed in children at a young age. Here are a few ways to help your child learn empathy.

1.  Ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to allow your children to learn empathy by thinking for themselves. This is much more effective than simply telling them what to do or how to feel. Here are a few examples.

  • If your child is doing something unkind to a friend or sibling...ask them to look at the child and ask the child if he or she looks like they like what your child is doing.  I use this a lot with Sienna when she is playing too rough with her sister. 
  • If you hear about something challenging that happened to someone...ask your child, "How do you think they felt when that happened?" You could also ask questions like, "What if you were really, really hungry but didn't have any food? Do you think it would be hard to live that way?" These types of questions provoke some understanding of other people's hardships.

2.  Get involved. Life gets hectic when you are trying to juggle activities, school, work, etc. but if you take just an hour a month to give back (in any capacity) you will find volunteering very rewarding and easy. You can find many opportunities at local churches or on volunteermatch.org.

3.  Check out kids' start-up organizations. Have you heard about all the amazing start up organizations founded by kids? It is truly amazing how many children are coming up with great ideas to give money to charities. If your child is an innovative, creative kid than why not help her start her own organization to give back to those in need! It could be something good you do together and your child will love it!! Check out this cool site: Kids Giving Back.

Toni Langdon is a stay-at-home mom of two daughters and an in-home child care provider. She is a black belt in martial arts and has worked with Chester County, PA children with special needs. Visit her blog, Tickles and Time Outs.

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