Identifying Commonalities Helps Kids Develop Empathy

Our world is rife with crisis and tragedy lately. As a parent, finding ways to explain the current events to our children presents a unique sort of challenge. Opinions and emotions run high surrounding these events which can make it difficult to even know where to begin when explaining what is happening and why. One thing that can make it at least somewhat easier is to focus on the people who are most profoundly affected by the crisis.


As we live in a diverse world, it is likely that with some of the events going on in the world, the people most profoundly affected appear to be very different your child and the rest of their family. This can make it difficult for kids to relate to these people and to express empathy in regards to their situation. However, by focusing on the commonalities that exist between these people and your own family, it becomes easier for kids to not just respond with empathy in these situations, but to practice empathy in their day to day lives.


Commonalities to Identify to Teach Empathy


Depending upon the age of your kids, the commonalities to begin identifying will vary. If you’re watching the news together and witnessing video of the events, it can be helpful to point out commonalities in appearance. The sight of a small child holding onto a stuffed animal, for example, is a great starting point for getting younger kids to imagine how they might respond in a similar situation and how they would feel. You can guide the conversation, asking questions and then relating your child’s response back to what they are seeing. For example, you could ask your child what toy they would grab if your family was going through the same situation and then point out how difficult the decision must have also been for that child. Then, you can talk about other things that the other child could have lost or left behind, such as their house, friends, and even their school.


With older children, focusing more on shared experiences can be more effective. The goal of empathy is to identify with another person, so relating what that individual is going through to your older kid or teen’s life experiences can help. If a situation seems too extreme, sometimes reversing the situation can prove helpful. Tell your older kid to imagine how they would feel if a similar situation was happening to them because of a similar (yet different ) characteristic.


In the end, talking openly with your child, taking care to listen to their viewpoint and concerns without judgement is critical in teaching empathy. After all, if your kid cannot see the behavior you want them to learn within you, then it is unlikely that they will adopt that behavior.