One question parents often ask me is, “How do I teach my child to care about others?” The answer may be simple: show care for the people around you. Your son or daughter is watching you! Children watch your interactions closely and they tend to imitate what they see. When you demonstrate positive interactions with your child and others, they are likely to follow your example.
Here are some ways you can encourage your child to develop the caring characteristics of empathy and kindness.
Empathy is the ability to consider the perspective of another person. It’s valuing someone, and trying to understand his or her thoughts and feelings.
First, model empathy towards your children. Be considerate of their perspective by listening and seeking to understand how they feel. For example, if you help your child to name an emotion they are feeling, it can show that you value and understand them: “I see you are mad because it’s time to clean up your toys. I know how much you love playing with your trains, but now it’s time to have dinner.” By validating your child’s feelings, and voicing understanding, you are teaching them to consider someone else’s perspective. (Please see my previous blog post on Teaching Your Child to Manage Emotions)
Next, demonstrate the same thoughtful behavior towards other people. Talking to your child about your concern for others, and sharing some of your own feelings will help them to develop compassion for others:
“I think Sarah is feeling sad because you got to the swing first. Sometimes I feel sad when someone else is first.”
“Did you see the smile on Sarah’s face when you gave her a turn on the swing? I think she felt happy.”
You can also use pretend play to teach your child, by making up stories:
“Oh no! The cow isn’t sharing the ball! The horse is feeling left out.”
As your child grows, discussions about empathy should become more natural and you may be pleased to discover that they remind you to consider the other’s feelings!
Please check back for Part Two: Practicing Kindness.
If you have questions related to supporting your child’s social emotional development, please contact one of our pediatric social workers.
Laura Mauriello, MS, LCSW, DT