Your child’s friend tripped and fell. The friend’s mother helped the child up and your child waited patiently till the friend was ready to walk again. Well, you should be happy that you have a child who displays empathy.
Your 5-year-old has a sense of fairness. They know about being treated well and want the same for their friends and family. So go ahead and nurture these budding displays of empathy –
Display empathy in your behaviour. Do not walk away from a temper tantrum. Instead, talk them through it. Make them realize that you want to understand how they feel. When your child sees you respond with empathy in a difficult situation they will internalize the learning faster.
Identify the feelings with names. Your child is yet to develop emotional skills. They need your help to understand feelings. Label positive and negative feelings like sad, grumpy, happy, frustrated. “Your friend was sad when you did not share your toy”, “It was kind of you to help me carry the bags”, “It is cruel to hurt a puppy”.
Appreciate empathetic behaviour. Make sure you identify and praise any display of empathy at home or outside. Simple acts like passing a plate, picking up a pen you dropped without being asked to, should not go unnoticed. Let them know that what they did helped you and made you feel good. It will make your child realize making someone else feel good is a nice thing.
Encourage them to speak about their feelings. When they learn to communicate and express their feelings they will be better equipped to label them on their own. Why they think what is fair and what is unfair behaviour, what makes them happy or sad- all these talks are an opportunity to reinforce the importance of social relationships and treating other people well.
Point out feelings of others around them. If they are watching television or you are reading out a story, talk to them about the characters involved. Try to make them identify with their feelings. This tells them that feelings are common across people and there are similarities in the way everyone feels.
Emphasize good behaviour at home and outside. Good manners are a precursor to teaching them good behaviour. Saying “Please” and “Thankyou” are phrases that your child should say automatically. It makes them understand that they have to treat others with respect.
Teach them responsibility. Give them small jobs like feeding a pet, watering house plants, etc. It teaches them to think about others. Praise a job well done.
Involve them in charitable activities. It can be something small – like making them pass on their old clothes, toys and books to charity. Talk to them about children who do not even have the basics that they need.
Teach the Stop-Think-Act method. Whenever they are in a difficult situation ask them to assess the situation, consider the possible solutions and then choose the correct action. It will not happen overnight but they will pick up on it as long as you keep gently reminding them about it.
It is never too early, too late, to start teaching your child empathy. If you do, your child will most likely to grow up into a well-adjusted adult with great coping skills!