Family by Family

We want to see all families thrive not just survive

So what’s the big deal about ‘empathy’?

Monday, August 27, 2012

As part of my role as Kid’s Coach I’m constantly on the lookout for the best ways to help our kids thrive.  I want to know what will make them the happiest and healthiest that they can be.

When I first started researching empathy I thought it was just one of those nice things we should do for others. But it turns out that it’s a whole lot more important than I’d thought! So I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt about empathy and why it’s crucial that our kids develop it.

What is it?

The best definition I’ve found is that empathy is ‘to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and care about what it’s like for them’.

Why is it so important:

It has been said that empathy is the foundation of good relationships, health and happiness! Isn’t that what every parent wants for their kids? When we feel empathy for another person we are  creating a connection with them. Think about the best memories that you have. Do they involve connecting with or sharing moments with another person? Without empathy you wouldn’t be able to have those special memories.

Just as importantly a lack of empathy can cause us much unhappiness. In fact, a lack of empathy is now thought to be one reason behind addiction. Being nice and empathic to others gives our brain a chemical called oxytocin which makes us feel good.  Put very simply, if we’re not empathic to ourselves or others we don’t get as much oxytocin and we can turn to other things (eg drugs, alcohol, food, pokies) to make ourselves feel good.

Encouraging empathy in kids can also significantly reduce bullying and other acts of violence. Without empathy, we would have no cohesive society, no trust and no reason not to hurt, cheat, steal or lie.

It is also important to note that empathy for others starts with self-empathy. That means connecting with yourself, listening to your own feelings and experiences (practicing mindfulness can be a great way to do this).

How do our kids get it?

  • Be an empathy role model! Be what you want your kids to be.
  • Yes you might think you sound a bit weird but pointing out and naming different emotions is the first step in developing empathy! You can also use this approach when helping them to resolve conflicts. Eg. I can see that you’re feeling angry because your sister cut up your drawing. That would be very frustrating for you. Do you remember that she’s only 2 and is still learning not to cut up other people’s work? You had to learn that when you were 2 as well’.
  • Talk about people’s differences and appreciate them! Look for books, TV shows etc that show kids from different backgrounds. ‘Come over to my House’ by Dr Suess is one of my favourites!
  • When reading books and watching TV or a movie with your kids ask them what they think a character is thinking. Then ask ‘how do you think they feel?’.
  • Limit not only violent TV and video games but also media where the characters are overly cruel to each other.
  • Make sure you tell your kids and show them that it feels good to help other people. It’s not a chore but something fun and rewarding.
  • Encourage pretend play so your kids can have practice at acting out being different characters with different perspectives. Dress ups, dolls, puppets and other toy figurines are great for this.
  • Talk to your kids about incidents of bullying or arguments that they may tell you about. Encourage your kids to see the perspective of each person involved and/or ask why they think the kids involved acted the way they did.

Borrow an empathy resource!

Knowing how important developing empathy is we are collecting as many games, books and activities about empathy for families to use. If you are interested in borrowing any of these things please see any of the coaches. And if you know of any great resources to do with empathy please let us know so we can share!

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One Response

  1. Doris says:

    Nice blog Lauren! Great we have something about empathy on the website 🙂

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