It’s Never Too Early to Teach Empathy

Motherhood is an amazing journey that is continually morphing into something unexpected. Just when I thought I had my daughter’s physical needs licked, she decided to turn into a “real” little person, with jumbled up wants and emotions that I have to interpret and hopefully influence somehow. With that, it is becoming more apparent that kids don’t just magically pop out of adolescence as well-adjusted, emotionally intelligent, compassionate adults (duh). Nevertheless, how do you teach your children to be kind, honest, and polite? How do you instill values in them? And when does that start?  I decided to do some reading on the topic and discovered something that I had never quite thought about before, at least in the context of parenting…that it is never too early to teach empathy. Yes, we get so caught up in our baby’s first words of “Mama” and “Dada” that we often overlook developing the most important communication skill – empathy What exactly does empathy entail? A sense of self-awareness, the ability to distinguish one’s own feelings from the feelings of others, putting oneself into another’s perspective, and being able to regulate one’s own emotional responses. So don’t hesitate to ask your child these questions: “How do you feel when Sally takes your toy?”, or “Don’t you think that Bobby is over-reacting by crying and screaming?”, or “How do you think Grandma would feel to find a thank you note hand-written by you in her mailbox?”. For the record, my husband’s initial response to this blog topic was “Are you gonna be one of those sissy Moms?” Ridiculous, I know. However, when I explained that we needed to help our daughter recognize emotional cues and intentionally remind her to think of others…he agreed with me wholeheartedly…with much empathy.

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