In school, there are plenty of lessons about math, geography, and science, but you don’t see anything about empathy in the classroom. This is unfortunate, as empathy is an important skill. We may be under the impression that children just naturally develop this ability, but in reality, it is not entirely intuitive — we need to both model this behavior and teach our children how to practice empathy.
Most of the lessons your children learn from you are from your behavior, not what you say. You can tell your child they need to care about other people’s feelings all you want, but if you don’t demonstrate this, your words are for naught. If you want to teach your child how to be empathetic, show them.
Treat others with respect and your child will pick up on it as well. Make a point to participate in community service ventures to model the importance of contributing to the community. This lesson is even better taught by participating in these activities with your child.
Your child will also learn empathy when you empathize with them. This can be difficult at times, so make sure you are actively working on the skill yourself. Take time to regularly engage in self-reflection, whether through meditation, prayer, journaling, or taking a walk.
Set High Expectations
Make sure your child knows that compassion is a priority for you. When your child demonstrates that they care about others, make sure you praise them. Communicate the value of being kind regularly — for example, instead of saying, “All that matters is that you’re happy,” say, “All that matters is that you’re kind and happy.” You should also make sure your child understands that they aren’t the center of the universe. Sometimes, they will need to turn off the TV and spend time doing chores around the house for the sake of the family, and they still need to be polite even in they’re in a bad mood.
Provide Opportunities for Practice
Everyone is born with the ability to empathize, but it is still a skill that takes regular practice. Regularly provide opportunities for your child to consider other people’s points of view and feelings. There are a few ways you can do this.
Family meetings can be a beneficial forum in which you can discuss any challenges or conflicts, give your child a voice in the family, and have them learn the different perspectives of family members. Make sure that everyone listens to other family member’s feelings.
Also make sure to encourage empathy in conversation. Make sure to ask your child about their friends and classmates and how they are doing. If your child is conflict with a peer, encourage them to think about the other’s perspective.
Teach Emotional Regulation
After years of practice, most adults know how to regulate their emotions. You know how to calm yourself when you’re anxious before a big meeting, or not raise your voice when you’re frustrated with your spouse. Children don’t yet have this skill, so it’s important to enable them to develop it. Not being able to regulate emotions makes empathy significantly more difficult — when you’re consumed with your own feelings, it’s hard to perceive those of others.
Emotional regulation starts with being able to identify your feelings. Teach your child to tune into their body to discover how they feel. If they express frustration, ask where they feel it in their body. This will help them be able to identify their emotions quicker through body sensations. Then, teach them how to handle these emotions. For example, if your child gets anxious, teach them breathing techniques to calm them down. Also give them healthy emotional outlets by encouraging them to talk about their feelings, express themselves creatively, and engage in self-reflective behaviors such as meditation.
Help Them With Emotional Vocabulary
It’s hard to empathize when you don’t understand what different feelings mean. Look for opportunities to teach your child different words for emotions. For example, “I see you’re sad that your toy broke” or “Mommy felt anxious when the car wouldn’t start.” From a young age, begin introducing your children to these words to help them identify their own feelings, as well as the feelings of others.
Montessori Preschool in Leesburg
At Lake Montessori, we are committed to helping our students become the best they can be. Our classroom is a community in which we prioritize learning how to relate to one another, resolve conflict in a healthy way, and respect others’ feelings. If you’re looking for a Montessori preschool in Leesburg, we’re happy to help! Contact us today to schedule a tour.