By Shayna Whitehouse, PhD, School Psychologist,
Healthy Learning Paths Instructor, email@example.com
I was struck while preparing for a recent parent education program. Parents were sincerely connecting and asking about each other’s family and children. I saw care in faces, connection through listening and eye contact, and compassion through physical gestures. As I looked at the group, I hesitated several moments to gather their attention because I saw they were engaging in an important experience with each other, something we all feel and something we all need. Empathy.
Sometimes I think of empathy as a superpower because of the power it has to encourage cooperation, compassion, and the best in people. Empathy is part of being human and fosters our ability to play, work and problem solve together because it helps us understand others’ emotions, thoughts and experiences – positive and negative. It helps us engage meaningfully with another person and for the benefit of another person. It helps us promote the wellness of another when they are feeling disconnected, uncared for or lost. As humans, we need connection, caring and compassion. Empathy gives us the ability to build these connections and form a link to compassion and belonging.
Children look to parents and adults around them to learn how to connect with others and to express care, compassion and emotions. Empathy is learned through modeling, reinforcement and sincere bonding. We must remember to model and teach empathy in our fast paced world so our children know how to significantly connect and support one another, to let each other know that we all matter, we all are needed. We must nurture the superpower of empathy to foster children’s ability to treat others kindly, provide meaningful help, solve problems by balancing other’s needs, and be perceived as a friend and compassionate leader. Empathy is a superpower that fosters our children’s health, happiness and connections with others.
Empathy preserves our personal relationships to others and enables us to understand others’ experiences and adjust our interactions to promote and protect their wellbeing. We have to focus on building empathy in our society to preserve our feelings of meaningful belonging and personal compassion and engagement. My experience at the parent presentation helped me remember how we use the superpower of empathy in everyday life and how we need it and must reserve time to teach our children its meaning and power. Our world moves quickly, and building that superpower of empathy helps our children know they matter, we need them, and in turn they will share that human connection with others they touch now and in the future.
Tips for modeling empathy and discussing events empathetically with your child:
When your child needs empathy:
- Put all other tasks and activities aside, take time for a full connection
- Move to your child’s eye level and make eye contact
- Show how to truly listen by engaging 100% with your child
- Allow your face to show and echo the emotions of your child
- Communicate your child’s feelings back, “Sounds like you feel…”
- Let them know your emotions while you are listening, “I feel so sad that you had that happen.”
- Express joy or excitement for positive events, “I see you feel joyful! I am pleased for you!”
- Provide the physical connection your child needs
When your child observes you empathizing with another individual:
- Never share more than what your child is ready to hear or needs to hear, but share the connection and human emotions experienced
- Discuss the emotions of the other person and how those emotions made you feel
- Make statements of, “That is so difficult for them. I feel for their experiences.”
- Demonstrate when you share the joy or excitement of another too, “I am so pleased that this event is happening for them. I feel the happiness too!”
When you observe your child empathizing with another individual:
- Discuss the connection and compassion you observed
- State, “I am proud of you for connecting.”
- Discuss how your child may experience big emotions from connecting with another person, and that this means they are growing up into a caring person, reinforce the positives of having these feelings
- Discuss that these feelings are normal and make your child a caring and strong friend
- Reinforce that the other person appreciated the connection and it was helpful
Empathy is a superpower that each of us can give and receive.