More than likely, we all know someone we describe as “cold.” Adults who remarkably do not express concern lack empathy. Developing empathy occurs during early childhood and does not emerge out of anywhere during adulthood. The window for children to have compassion towards others opens during infancy. By age six or seven, the chance for children to develop empathy closes.
How do parents teach children empathy and help develop this crucial social skill? First, they need to possess it. Parents with low emotional intelligence often raise children who struggle socially throughout their life. Nurturing parents will have more success building their children’s social and emotional skills.
Here are some things parents can do to help their young children develop empathy at an early age. Birth order also plays a role in development.
- Practice the Art of Listening: Listening to what your children have to say and expressing genuine interest helps development. Children become better listeners by modeling their parents’ behaviors. Listening is a Way of Loving provides a resource to help foster listening skills among children. In this book, Terry Lynne Graham states that the average person listens no more than 25% of the time. Not listening to someone when they express emotions shows a lack of concern and negatively impacts relationships. Learning how to listen helps develop empathy in children.
- Staying Calm in Situations: When parents remain calm in stressful situations, this teaches children how to keep their cool in the long run. How you react when your toddler throws a fit establishes boundaries. If you give your child a toy to calm them down and make it a habit, they see it as a reward. Children will learn that every time they pitch a fit, you accommodate them. On the flip side, completely ignoring your child’s emotions will have negative ramifications as well. If you can gracefully pivot through your child’s outbursts, this teaches patience over time, which builds empathy. Taking a rational approach to chaos displays a sense of calm which children can learn.
- Watching How You Speak: Language plays a significant role while staying calm in stressful situations with your children. Be mindful of how you speak to your child and the words you choose. Also, your tone of voice and body language affects children’s social and emotional development. When you try to understand your child’s feelings, you show your children empathy. Asking meaningful questions to get to the root of your child’s troubles displays compassion. You can make strides during infancy in your child’s empathetic development. Actively practicing empathy towards your children and others will benefit their development. To raise an emotionally healthy child, parents need to make empathy habitual and routine. Children will learn patience and awareness, which helps strengthen their emotional intelligence.
- Showing Acceptance: Not judging your children will pay off big in the end when they become adults. Allowing your children to express themselves and accepting them helps develop empathy. Understanding or at least trying to will strengthen bonds between you and your child. Showing acceptance of their emotions rather than taking a chance to teach them a lesson promotes social growth.
Naturally, you need to set boundaries, but making your child adhere to strict and rigid guidelines can backfire. Being cold or overbearing will weaken any parent-child bonds and can be detrimental later in life. If children feel they have to abide by guidelines, this can produce rebellious and risk-taking behavior as they grow older. Emotionally intelligent parents have the chance to pass down their traits and knowledge. Possessing mindfulness and awareness helps parents teach their children empathy. If you want to see how unempathetic parents affect children, you may find this article by Psych Central interesting.