There is no sugar coating it: Life is much different now than it was one year ago. Our responsibility as parents and educators to encourage tolerance and acceptance amongst our children seems to be more important now than ever—but how do we do that? Where do we start? We start by fostering empathy within our children.
Empathy is a vital piece of the social-emotional developmental puzzle. Empathy is watching our child’s frustration and focusing on how life feels in that little child’s body, while putting our own anger and agenda into the background. Simply put, Dr. Brené Brown defines empathy as “communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone’.” When we empathize with our children, they develop trusting, secure attachments with us. And what happens when kids feel secure? They are more likely to take emotional risks—getting involved when they see someone who needs sympathy and help. We can also help by teaching our children how to cope appropriately with their own emotions. We do this by acknowledging all feelings rather than dismissing them—including the negative ones. We engage our children in conversations about their feelings and what causes different feelings. At all stages of child development, we learn about feelings through books, play, and interactions with each other.
Another way to cultivate empathy in children is to show them what they have in common with others. Research shows that children learn to be more empathetic when they belong to schools and families who foster multiculturalism and diversity. In addition, learn to nurture your child’s sense of morality. Help them to regulate themselves from the inside, and to not rely on external rewards. Explain to them how their acts of wrong-doing affect other people so that they are more likely to develop an internal sense of right and wrong.
In conclusion, remember this: empathy is what fuels connection. Meaningful connections form strong relationships. Relationships are crucial to brain development and foster safety and security in your child. For your child’s brain to develop pathways for higher levels of thinking, they must feel safe and cared for. All these components work together to form a healthy social and emotional foundation!
Randa Jones: Family Service Coordinator