Cultivating relationships and strengthening social bonds is important for every individual. But, this isn't possible without the ability to empathise -- the quality that enables us to feel and understand the emotions of others and bond with them.
Research has shown that there are two types of empathy: Emotional (or affective) and Cognitive.
Emotional empathy helps us recognise the feelings of others, whereas cognitive empathy helps us understand the emotions others are going through.
What are the benefits of being empathetic?
The ability to understand and share feelings plays an important role in helping us connect with others, create harmonious relationships, develop prosocial behaviours, and feel peaceful and content. Empathy helps in effective communication, as empathetic individuals are better at reading between the lines. Research has also shown that empathy decreases violent and aggressive tendencies.
With so many advantages to being empathetic, isn't it important to help your child develop this vital life skill? Here are some simple ways to foster empathy in your child:
- Provide books to read: Reading books helps children to increase their knowledge and broaden their perspective. It gives them an idea of how different humans are from each other, and that each one of us thinks and acts differently from others. For example, your child may not understand why his younger sister dislikes having her cheeks pulled. Reading books like 'Don’t Pull my Cheeks!' might help him relate to his sister's objections. Also, reading stories to your child, helping him get inside the minds of the characters and their feelings, can go a long way towards developing his empathy muscles.
- Help identify commonalities: It is natural for us to feel drawn towards those with whom we have something in common. This also makes it easier for us to empathise with such individuals. But often, it is our differences that get emphasised rather than our commonalities, making it difficult to show empathy. So, help your child identify what he has in common with those around him, even when it is not obvious. For example, your child is deeply passionate about Math and meets someone who is very passionate about art. You can show your child that though they may differ in their interests, both share a common trait: being passionate about what they do. Doing this on a consistent basis can help your child develop a warm and inclusive attitude. Your child should always be able to find something in common with everyone, because at the very least, all of us humans have a heart beating in our chests.
- Travel widely: Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Travelling is important for your child to learn how diverse the world is and yet, how closely linked we all are. Getting a glimpse of various cultures, connecting and communicating with individuals of different backgrounds, and experiencing diversity, can help your child slip into another person's shoe a lot more easily.
- Teach empathetic listening: The ability to listen without judgment is key to effective communication. And when coupled with the capacity to understand how an individual is feeling, it can go a long way towards helping us frame the right response. So, help your child develop good listening skills.
- Encourage eye contact: Psychiatrist Dan Siegel believes that eye contact plays a crucial role in helping us form attachments and learn how to care. He says, "Repeated tens of thousands of times in the child's life, these small moments of mutual rapport (serve to) transmit the best part of our humanity -- our capacity for love -- from one generation to the next." Over time, the habit of looking people in the eye and speaking, will help your child tune into the feelings of others. However, a major drawback of the modern age is the intrusion of screen devices and social media into our lives. This has decreased the amount of face-to-face time parents spend with their children. Therefore, make it a point to have screen-free time at home to bond with your children.
- Advocate volunteering: If your child is old enough to volunteer, take her along with you for volunteering activities or encourage her to join local community groups. Volunteering will provide your child with opportunities to learn the act of giving and taking care. This, in turn, will help her develop compassion, respect, commitment to a cause and the urge to respond to the needs of others.
Parents always strive to develop values like love and honesty in their children. However, most parents don't pay much attention to teaching their child empathy. But this is a skill that will prove equally beneficial in childrens' lives and positively impact their relationships with others.
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