Insights from the hood
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Unleashing empathy: Tips for raising compassionate children
By Mona Andrei
May 16, 2023
Have you ever thought you were alone in a room, only to realize that your children have eyes and ears everywhere?
Of course, you have. We all have. And it’s not because we undermine our kids, but rather because we don’t realize the power – or impact – our own actions have on our kids’ brains, which are basically sponges. They soak it all in and emulate everything they see. It’s how they learn.
Several years ago, when my eldest daughter was around six years old, I was in the kitchen watering my plants. As you’ve probably already guessed, I thought I was by myself.
“What is wrong with you?” I said out loud as I yanked a few dead leaves from a sad-looking Peace Lilly. “Am I over-watering you? Am I not watering you enough? Do you even want to live?”
Don’t judge me. I had been struggling with this plant ever since I brought it home. And everybody knows that plants love it when you talk to them.
Then a few days later, I was reading in the living room when my daughter’s voice caught my attention. It was her tone that made me sit up and listen.
We don’t realize the power – or impact – our own actions have on our kids’ brains, which are basically sponges. They soak it all in and emulate everything they see. It’s how they learn.
“What is wrong with you? Do you want to wake up dead?”
I remember quietly walking into the kitchen to see who she was talking to, and there she was, in front of the Peace Lilly and talking to it in *gasp!* my voice.
It’s one thing when you hear something you never thought you’d say come out of your mouth, knowing that it comes from you, parents. (Close the fridge door. Were you born in a barn?) But when you hear your children imitating you in a less than flattering way… well, that’s a different lesson.
Do you want to wake up dead?
There’s no other way to say it. Those words scared the bejesus out of me! Her words and her tone were harsh. And why? Because she had heard the way that I spoke to that plant. *Forehead slap*
What had I done?
Or perhaps a better question: What was I doing?
Was I raising a “mean girl?”
That day changed the way that I spoke to anyone and everything – people and plants alike.
‘Children learn by observing. They see and hear almost everything we say and do. Knowing this, you can model empathetic behaviour in your daily interactions by showing kindness.’
And now that Alexa is around, she can testify on my behalf.
“Alexa, please play 80’s rock… Thank you.” (Not. Even. Kidding.)
So, in the spirit of raising compassionate children, the following are a few practical tips to help empower your parenting journey.
As I realized all those years ago, children learn by observing. They see and hear almost everything we say and do. Knowing this, you can model empathetic behaviour in your daily interactions by showing kindness (even to your plants!)
Teach emotional awareness
Encouraging your children to express their feelings and validate their experiences will help them to recognize their own emotions. Putting this awareness into practice lays the foundation for understanding and empathizing with others.
‘Stories provide valuable opportunities for children to relate to different characters, understand their emotions, and learn valuable life lessons.’
Talking to your kids about different perspectives, cultural diversity, and experiences will help them to develop an ability to see things from another person’s point of view. This is an important lesson in developing respect.
Practice active listening
Putting down your smartphone when your kids are talking to you has two benefits. First, it teaches them to listen attentively to others. Secondly, giving them your undivided attention has a positive impact on their self-esteem.
Promote kindness and gratitude
Discussing the impact of kind gestures towards others and how it feels to receive kindness helps to foster a sense of gratitude by acknowledging and appreciating the efforts of others while also encouraging them to show kindness.
‘If you can involve your children in community service activities or volunteering opportunities, you’ll expose them to diverse situations and the needs of others while helping them develop a sense of social responsibility.’
Read books with empathy themes
Our kids love to read with us, and there are so many books that highlight empathy, compassion, and diversity. These stories provide valuable opportunities for children to relate to different characters, understand their emotions, and learn valuable life lessons.
Practice problem-solving and conflict resolution
Encouraging your kids to find mutually beneficial solutions also fosters empathy and respect for differing opinions.
Engage in community service
As parents, we are busy. The day job, the household chores, the varied activities, and schedules. I get it, so this one may be harder to implement. But if you can involve your children in community service activities or volunteering opportunities, you’ll expose them to diverse situations and the needs of others while helping them develop a sense of social responsibility.
Remember, fostering empathy is an ongoing process that requires patience and consistency. By incorporating these strategies into your parenting approach, you not only nurture your children’s well-being but also contribute to a future generation that values compassion, empathy, and respect.
Mona Andrei is an award-winning humour blogger, columnist, and author. In her most recent book, SUPERWOMAN: A Funny and Reflective Look at Single Motherhood, she shares her challenges and triumphs as a single mother as well as those of other single mothers. You can connect with Mona on Twitter.