True empathy isn’t only about showing caring and concern.  It goes much further than that. I’m currently reading a book written by Dr. Michelle Borba, Ed.D called UnSelfie. In it, Dr. Borba talks about how to cultivate empathy in our kids in a world full of Instagram selfies and the focus on me, me, me. Here is what she has to say…

Empathy is about sharing and feeling the same emotions as another person. Empathy enables us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and share their perspective.

Helping your kids to develop empathy towards others gives them the ability to better understand differences. When they can understand differences such as race, religion, economic status, appearance, etc., they are better equipped to avoid potential bullying. Empathy is the foundation of bullying prevention.

How do you help your kids develop a sense of empathy?

 It’s really not as complicated as you might think. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be talking about helping kids to recognize their own feelings, develop a sense of empathy for others and then practice as they live out an empathetic lifestyle,

Let’s talk about how to help your child learn the fundamentals of empathy.  Kids need help understanding and identifying feelings so that they can identify emotions in themselves and others.  The ability to identify emotions is called emotional intelligence.  Focusing on feelings is an important “habit” to develop.  As a parent, you can plant the seeds of emotional intelligence as early as preschool.  Planting seeds this early will give kids the advantage they need to begin flexing their “empathy muscle”.

Emotional intelligence is the foundation of empathy building. Before your child can empathize with others, they need to be able to correctly identify their own feelings.  The ability to read feelings/social cues quickly and correctly is the first step in developing a sense of empathy in kids.

So…how do you teach your kids to identify feelings?

By nurturing, modeling and reinforcing emotion-charged encounters.  Here are the habits you can start in you daily family life to build their emotional intelligence.

Stop and Check In.

When you connect with your kids, put the brakes on everything else.  Don’t allow electronics (yours or theirs), work, chores or anything else get in the way of connecting/communicating with your kids. There should be NO distractions when you are talking with your children.

Maintain Eye Contact:

Keeping eye contact is the best way for your kids to learn to identify emotions. Be at eye level when communicating with your child. The best way to help kids remember to maintain eye contact is to remind them to always look at the eye color of the person talking.  Another way to maintain that connection is to tell them to look at the bridge of the talker’s nose. 

Pay Attention To Feelings:

Giving feelings a name will help kids build empathy and a vocabulary to express both their own feelings and the feelings of others. Name each feeling and ask questions that focus on how a child is feeling and match specific gestures to specific emotions. These activities can help kids to focus on feelings.

Communicate Feelings:

Once your child has developed an emotional vocabulary, they need to be given opportunities to express those feelings. As adults, we tend to ask our kids how they think other people feel.  But, it’s important to help them describe how they feel themselves.  Start by asking your child how they feel. Only when your child can recognize and express their own feelings can they start to consider how others are feeling.

Remember that effective ways to help your kids zone in on their feelings need to be practical and age-appropriate.  You’ll also need to consider your child’s ability level when helping them to express their feelings.

Next time, we’ll continue reading Dr. Borba’s book and find out more about how to help your kids to focus on practicing these habits .

In the meantime, if you would like to find out about more ways to bullyproof your kids, check out our latest e-book called “Bullyproof”.  It’s full of ideas on how you can take small steps to empower your child to stand up to bullies, to keep the lines of communication open and to help your child to become more empathetic and compassionate.

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