If you feel this way, you feel the same way many parents do these days. The good news is there is hope. With a little hard work, you can raise your child to care about others.
Here are 6 tips to teach your kids to have empathy:
- Celebrate your children’s differences. If you have more than one child, then I am sure you are aware that they have differences. They also aren’t exactly like you. Maybe, your oldest child is more outgoing. He never meets a stranger. He talks to everyone at the grocery store, and he knows all the neighbors by their first name. Your younger one is happy staying in. She has a few close friends, she enjoys spending time with. Instead of comparing them, let them know the positives about their personality. They could actually help balance one another, and be great friends as they get older. By doing this, you are letting your child know it’s alright to be who they are. This will help them when they are around people, that aren’t like them. They will be more accepting of others.
- Practice what you preach. Meaning demonstrate empathy to others. Your daughter notices when you snap at the barista at Starbucks. She also notices that you never leave a tip. The next time the barista makes a mistake on your order, kindly let them know. Make sure you wait patiently. Remember, they are doing the best they can. Even if they make a mistake, leave a tip. It really is nice to have someone else make your drink for you, and serve it to you. Don’t forget to show your appreciation.
- Allow your child to express their feelings. This is an important one. Children do not have the vocabulary that adults do. Meaning they don’t always understand what you are trying to tell them. It’s easy to feel frustrated when your child is having a meltdown, especially when you are in a hurry to get out the door in the morning. The last thing you want to do is stop what you are doing and attend to your child’s temper tantrum. Remember, your child is much younger than you. Your child may not have the capacity to tolerate feelings the way you do. The next time this happens, allow your child to have the meltdown. This doesn’t mean you are giving in, or letting your child have their way. You are teaching your child, that there feelings are alright. This will pay off in the long run.
- Talk about empathy with your child. The next time you see your 7 year old laughing at your 5 year old. Tell your 7 year old to have empathy for your 5 year old. Talking about empathy is a great way to help your child understand what it is. Talk to your child about why it is important to have empathy, and understand what empathy is. Empathy can be underrated. This is a skill your child can use in life. It can actually help your child in the long run. Start planting the importance now of empathy in your child's life. It’s never too late.
- Make sure to be thankful. Let your child know that you appreciated that they made the bed this morning. Don’t just thank your kids, thank your spouse and friends. Thank your husband when he does the dishes without any prompting. Thank your boss when he/she didn’t get upset with you for coming in late. Thank your friends for their friendship. Let them know what you value about them. You can also write thank you notes or a text message. You can keep them simple, if you’d like. By doing this, you are being a great role model for your child.
- Don’t overpraise your child. I know you like it when your child thanks the clerk at the grocery store. But, be careful that you don’t overdo it with praise. This actually won’t make your child be more empathetic. This is a relatively simple task. When you compliment your child for a relatively simple task, you start to lose the value in it. They may just do it to get a positive response from you. Rather than having genuine care for others.
What you are doing with your child, is planting what empathy is and the importance of it. You could also spend some time volunteering with your child. Pick a cause you are passionate about. Let your child know why you are passionate about it. When is the last time you thought about what legacy you would like to leave behind for your children. If you haven’t yet, then now is the time to start.
Lianne Avila is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, in San Mateo, CA. She has been helping children express and manage their emotions. For a free 15-minute phone consultation or more information, please call or email (650) 892-0357 or Lianne@LessonsforLove.com.