Encouraging Empathy by Setting Ethical Expectations

Raising children who are kind and care about others is a top priority for many parents. We accomplish this by instilling empathy within them -the ability to recognize and respond to another person’s emotions from that person’s perspective. But, too often, the message that we think we are conveying to our kids isn’t the message they receive from us. Here are some simple tips to ensure that your message of empathy is being reinforced in your kids through setting ethical expectations.

 

Be clear.

When speaking with your kids, be sure that you are saying what you mean. It’s also important to emphasize that message daily so as to reinforce the importance of that message. For example, to help your child understand the importance of acting with empathy, when they speak of their friends and classmates ask them questions about how they treated that person. This is especially important if they mention a classmate being picked on, or something unfortunate that might have happened to a friend. Ask questions that reinforce the importance of treating others with kindness and seeing the situation through that person’s eyes.

 

Get other adults in your child’s life on the same page.

When speaking with your child’s teachers and coaches, emphasize that you expect your kid to react with empathy by asking questions about how they treat others. It’s tempting to focus questions solely on grades or areas that need improvement, but these adults spend considerable time with your child, who will look to them as examples for appropriate behavior and how to treat others.

 

Encourage a broader perspective.

Children are naturally very self-focused. Learning empathy and to consider others before oneself is something that comes more easily as children mature and become young adults. However, you can facilitate that learning by encouraging empathy in your kids. Focusing necessary household chores on the benefit they provide the entire family is a great example. In this way, your child’s place as part of the family and their relationships with the other members of their family is emphasized. This helps your child to remember to look at the bigger picture and consider how their actions affect others.

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