Oh JoyOh Joy

let's discuss: teaching empathy to kids...

Oh Joy / Photo by Bonnie Tsang

For the last couple weeks, we've discussed some things that were fun to talk about and get various perspectives. They were light and sometimes silly, but today's post is about to get a little more serious...

This last week of events has really taken a toll on my mental psyche. I am still angry and processing that racism is still very much present in 2017. I know there is so much I can't control about what other people think or do or where they live and what they have been taught and what they think deep down inside them is right (when it's not). What I do know (and the only thing that has really helped me this week) is I have an even bigger desire within me to make sure that as parents of children who will be part of this next generation, that I teach them empathy. I don't think it's something that we constantly (normally) have to think about. We don't often think about having to teach empathy to our children because we hope they will develop it. We expect they will know what's right and what's not. But now, more than ever, I needed to use this moment in time as an opportunity to teach my kids about helping others when they need it, how we are all different, and how they can learn to be good people. We have to actively teach children this trait as it doesn't come as naturally as we would all hope.

One thing to be aware of in this discussion is the difference between sympathy vs. empathy. Both are good traits to have, but here's the difference (from the dictionary):

Sympathy is largely used to convey commiseration, pity, or feelings of sorrow for someone who is experiencing misfortune. This prevailing sense is epitomized in the category of greeting card most often labeled “sympathy” that specializes in messages of support and sorrow for those in a time of need.

Empathy is most often used to refer to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, thereby vicariously experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.

Empathy is the harder of the two to teach when you may not be in the same situation as others. This can be a really tricky thing to convey especially if you have young kids. So, I made my best attempt yesterday on the ride home with my 5.5 year old. I gave her a hypothetical situation of her seeing that another kid (maybe someone she didn't even know) who was being made fun of by another kid. I made sure she knew that in this pretend story—neither of those other kids were her friends—because it's easier to defend your friend. It's much harder to empathize, defend and help someone you don't know. I told her that one kid was being mean to the other kid and asked what she would do. She told different things she would say or do, and we discussed it. I reminded her to keep imagining what she would feel like if she was the one being picked on and how she would want someone to stand up for her. I have no idea if that conversation sunk in, but it was a start.

Also, I'm a big believer that kids learn from what they see. If you want your kids to be kind to others, make sure they see you doing the same. Bring them with you when you are bringing soup to a friend who has the flu, or verbally express your feelings when seeing a car accident on the road and your hopeful prayers for everyone's safety.

If you have kids of your own or kids in your life, please make that start in teaching them about these parts of life. It's so important now more than ever. And if you have had experience with other techniques or methods for teaching empathy, please share, as I would love to know any and all ways that we can help make the future better, braver, and kinder.

{Photo by Bonnie Tsang}