As your child’s world expands beyond just home and school, they see how people from other backgrounds live their lives. Seeing this begins an avalanche of questions and curiosity that you, as their parent, want to channel into empathy, the ability to share the feelings of another person. To help, here’s a quick guide on how to teach your child empathy.
Your kids gravitate to story. Assuming they’re old enough, they likely have a favorite TV show, a book series that speaks to them, and maybe even a podcast they enjoy. Stories help kids to make sense of their own lives and their place in the world, comparing their own thoughts and feelings to that of the main character.
You, as a parent, should then encourage exposure to all kinds of characters and writers or creators, whether they be from a different race, ethnicity, country, generation, or socioeconomic status. Stories that represent different communities well give your child insight into their struggles and a new level of empathy for people they know in these groups.
You can also teach your child empathy by involving them in acts of services. While good books, movies, and other media show them different lifestyles, being in others’ presence—seeing, talking with, and serving them—makes an arguably bigger impact. There are a few different ways kids can give back to their community, but one that may be conducive to growing their empathy is serving at a homeless shelter.
As they clean, serve food, and talk to residents, your child will see both their great need but also how they aren’t quite so different from him or her. Forming these relationships as they serve can prevent them from feeling superior about serving. Rather, they’ll get a fuller picture of people’s humanity and learn to empathize with their new friends.
Meanwhile, it’s helpful to talk through certain confusing experiences that kids have so they can grow their perspective and empathy. If they see a group of people milling around a police station with signs held high, you can take this opportunity to talk about protests and the specific issue they’re protesting. Or, if they can’t help but stare at someone in a wheelchair, this is your chance to educate them about people with disabilities. These situations often occur without warning, so be watchful for opportunities to speak up. To get your kids’ perspectives, try first asking them questions about the situation, and then discussing it more in-depth.