Empathy is a very complex skill to develop. These skills might seem like grown-up social skills and indeed they are. Empathy is an inherent quality. Either the child has it or not. With practice and with the parents being good role models, a child can be made to be empathetic towards people. The child should be taught to regulate his own emotional responses so that he is able to distinguish his own feelings from the feelings of others. Role playing is a good way to teach a child to be empathetic.
Being able to empathise with another person means that children:
- Understands that they are a unique and a separate individual
- Understands that others can have different thoughts and feelings than they have.
- Recognises the common feelings that most people experience like happiness, anger, surprise, disappointment, sadness etc.
- Is able to look at a particular situation and imagine how they might feel at that moment, and be able to determine what type of response might be appropriate or comforting in that particular situation.
Children can be taught to empathise in the following ways:
- Parents should treat the child as an individual with a mind of their own.
- Parents must address the child’s needs.
- By modelling empathic behaviour and pointing out situations that call for empathy, parents can generate sympathetic response in their children.
- Parents can help children discover what they have in common with other people who are familiar and similar to them.
- Parents should help children explore other roles and perspectives by discussing how a particular character from his favourite story thinks, believes or feels.
- The parents should teach the child different facial expression with the associated emotion.
- Children are capable of being spontaneously helpful and sympathetic. They should not be taught to empathise with rewards or punishments.
- Children should be taught to “feel good” when they are sympathetic towards somebody.
- The parents need to inspire good feelings through social interactions and physical affection.