Exploring Other Perspectives Teaches Kids Empathy
As parents, one of the promises that we frequently make to ourselves, in regards to our children, is to teach them to be better people than we are. We want them to be strong, resilient, capable, and compassionate. One thing that goes a long way to accomplishing that goal is to teach our kids empathy. This is a trait that, culturally speaking, isn’t overly prominent within our society. While a sympathetic response to another person’s situation or problem is considered polite and necessary, an empathetic response -one that places both individuals on the same level, viewing the other person’s situation from their unique perspective- is not encouraged. Yet, empathy is critical in being a compassionate and giving person. It is also an important part of emotional strength as being empathetic teaches us not just that other people experience similar problems and struggles, but that because others are able to face and overcome their challenges, we are capable of doing so, too.
One way to help teach your kids empathy is to explore other perspectives and worldview. It is all too easy to get caught up in our own small worlds, focusing on our own interests, preferences, and opinions simply due to the necessity of navigating our own challenges in life. Yet, we do not live in an insular world. Every individual we encounter will have differing opinions and views of the world -even individuals whom it is tempting to assume are just like us, such as family members and close friends. Emphasizing this fact and making a point of not just acknowledging other viewpoints, but of exploring why someone may feel that way and how they came to develop that view will help your kids to develop empathy. Exploring other viewpoints is also a major component of developing critical thinking and developing the mental flexibility necessary to not just learn new ideas, but to come up with new and innovative ideas.
Simple yet effective ways to explore other perspectives and viewpoints are based upon seeking out other views. You can do this by sharing movies and books with your child. Watching movies that not just take place in other countries, but are filmed by natives of that country can be highly effective. Through books, you and your child can discuss the events that the main character goes through, as well as their emotional responses throughout the story. This can easily be compared and contrasted with how your child thinks they might feel or react in a similar situation.
It’s important to stay involved in this process. After all, you are your child’s greatest teacher and, regardless of their age, your child looks to you as an example of how to behave and respond to others. Should they see your willingness to see things from another perspective and to openly and actively explore the views of other people, your child will be more willing and likely to do similar.