Advice Column, Child, Parenting, Tween & Teen

Developing the skill of empathy

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Empathy is one of the five categories of Emotional intelligence (EQ), the others being social skills, motivation, self – awareness and self – regulation. Some may argue that EQ is more important than intelligence quotient (IQ) when it comes to success in life, as it lays the foundation for working cooperatively, understanding and is a necessity as global citizen.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Developing a sense of empathy is an important life skill. Young children are naturally ego–centric and tend to think only of themselves and their immediate needs. There are various benefits of being empathetic such as having a greater sense of security and, developing stronger relationships with peers and teachers. It fosters tolerance of others as well as promotes good mental health and social harmony. An empathetic adult displays greater success in professional and personal endeavours, overall happier, develop strong leadership qualities and experiences lower levels of stress. 

Here are few tips for parents to develop empathy in their children: 

  1. Parents should help their children recognize their feelings. By understanding your own feelings, you begin to understand the feelings of others. Role-playing is a great way to get children to explore their feelings. It assists children in the development of their expressive language. I have found that it is helpful to use pictures/puppets depicting different emotions assists children in learning about their feelings as well as developing the ability to read others’ emotions based on facial expressions.
  2. Talk to children about how others may feel and why; this will build their emotional language.  You can talk to your child about what happened on their favourite tv show, or a scene from a book and discuss how the character would have felt or how would you feel about it if that happened to you. Storytelling with an emotional theme is also a great way to introduce and explore feelings.
  3. Encourage children to care of plants and animals to help them understand the impact that they have on the lives of others. Having a pet or a plant to look after develops their sense of responsibility, compassion, ability to love and mostly importantly empathy.  Allowing your child to ‘choose’ a pet/plant is a great way to keep them invested in the project.  

Strong empathy skills can set children up for success in life. Parents, teachers, caregivers and even siblings can play a powerful role in helping one another achieve this success. However, remember a big and very normal part of being a toddler is focusing on “me”, “mine” and “I” and that empathy is a very complex skill to master (some grown-ups still haven’t), so be patient, as it will continue to develop across your child’s life.  

By: Saisha Goorbhare – Learning Support Teacher, Crawford Pre-Primary Pretoria

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