The role of empathy in a person’s life is too often quantified when speaking in terms of how big of a heart a person has or how many people the try to help. Whether a child has empathy for one person or many isn’t the real issue. The concern that any parent should be thinking about is whether or not their child has empathy for those that are in some way different from them. It is very easy to empathize with someone that looks like you do, or shares the same beliefs and values that you do, but in order to show kids what empathy is really like a parent or guardian must be able to show empathy to those that are different from themselves. There are a couple of ways that you can do this that will be entirely appropriate to show your children, and will allow them to benefit from the idea that even those who are different from them deserve the same type of attention.
1) Learn to zoom in and out.
What is meant by this is that a person needs to be able to focus on others around them, but also upon those that are not in their immediate sphere of influence. It is necessary to take in the perspectives of others that are not directly connected to one’s life and understand their hardships and struggles. In this manner you can show your child that the lives of others are just as important and bear serious consideration when deciding to show empathy.
2) Emphasize the importance of listening.
It is very easy to simply hear something and feel empathy. This however is often described as a drive by empathy that is fleeting and teaches children almost nothing when it comes to truly caring about others. By teaching your child how to really listen to the issues and struggles of another they can come to a better and more meaningful understanding of what it means to listen to and empathize with another human being. Truly listening to another person makes it possible to feel their pain and identify with whatever they are going through.
Teaching children about empathy is a lifelong process that never really ends but can come to a culmination when they become adults and are able to pass such teachings on to the next generation. By showing your children what it means to be an empathetic human being you will be doing both them and those that will come after them a great service.