Thursday, November 25, 2010

How can I teach my child to be empathetic?

Ms. Dorothy -
I have caught my kindergartner being exclusive on the playground at school. If she doesn’t feel like playing with someone, she’ll just turn her back on them and ignore them, or she’ll flat out run away from them. She has always been well-liked, so she doesn’t understand the hurt she is causing by not including others in her games. How can I teach her to be more empathetic?
- Worried Mom

It is so hard to see our children learning about their social worlds! You are on the right track to want to teach her more empathy rather than just wanting to tell her to "be nice."

Take some time to model your thinking aloud. Name the thoughts that come up, and the feelings attached to them - not to tell her, but just to make the way you experience situations really transparent to her.

That may feel strange and awkward at first, but your daughter will begin to emulate the behavior pretty quickly, and you will have a window into what is going on in her head, too. Then you can talk about those difficult situations where empathy might help.

Children reflect what they see, so the best thing you can do for her is to make sure she sees you being empathetic. Point out when you notice others doing the same.
Helping her to identify actions and reactions will make a difference in the way she appreciates what is happening inside of others.

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