The Importance of Teaching Empathy

I know I’ve written about this topic in the past and I wanted to write about it again, but I really believe it’s important for our children to learn empathy at an early age. Children who learn and show empathy early on grow up to become adults who care for and respect other people. They turn out to be advocates for not only themselves, but to those around them. This word hits home to me, because when I was growing up, I saw very few children and teens who showed empathy.

A few weeks ago my three-year old started preschool and one conversation I had with her principal will forever stay with me. We were on the playground talking about how she was doing in school and she and her other two teachers were talking about how well she cares for this one girl (we will call her Michele). Maddie realizes that Michele is smaller than most of the kids, has a hard time balancing and seeing. Her principal and teachers were telling me that Maddie helps Michele wash her hands each day, helps her get a stool to reach the sink, puts on her shoes to go outside and even helps her on a pike and pushes her around while Michele steers. As they were telling me their eyes were tearing up and my face lit up like a Christmas tree. I was beyond proud of her and it was probably one of the most important moments of motherhood thus far.

It made me so happy, not because the teachers were telling me how sweet and compassionate my child is, I mean, of course that is always a plus, but why I was so happy was that Maddie understood all the conversations we’ve had prior to starting preschool, she was retaining the information we talked about. See, weeks leading up to preschool, her and I would sit down and talk about forming friendships, showing compassion and empathy towards students and teachers. I explained to her that she is to include friends in activities and games, that she is to never make a friend feel left out and that she is to treat people with respect, just as she would want to be treated. We talked about how some friends are talkative and some are quiet, and that doesn’t change the way we should feel about them. Everyone is different and we need to embrace who they are.

When her and I would talk, I wouldn’t be forceful or demanding about this, but rather talk with her what it means to be a big girl, what it means to be in preschool and what it means to be a kind child. She understood what I was saying and would ask questions after we would talk about it. This wasn’t the first conversation her and I had about empathy or compassion, we’ve been talking about it ever since she could talk.

What I want to emphasize here is that kids at any age can understand what it means to be kind, compassion and respectful. As parents, we have to believe that they can understand this and dedicate some time out of the day to talk about it, even if it’s just a few minutes. It can be before bed, in the car, on the playground or at dinner.

I know there has been or will still be times where my daughter loses it and yells or even hits (she did this a few months ago) another kid. I am not saying she is perfect or never going to slip up. What I do see though is a kid who is learning already how to be empathic to others and who actually enjoys caring for other people. It just takes a few minutes of having a good, parent/child conversation.

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