How can I cultivate empathy and kindness with children?

How can I cultivate empathy and kindness with children?

We are social beings

The human being needs others to survive since birth, and this makes cooperation and teamwork something that is within our nature. If we are not with others, if we do not work together, if we do not help each other, we do not survive. 

Values such as empathy and kindness ensure our survival and future success in our lives. 

What is the difference between these two concepts?

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in other's shoes and understand how the other may be feeling. It is also understanding that the other person may feel and think differently than we do and deserves our respect and understanding.

Kindness, however, is about understanding the other's feelings, putting yourself in their shoes, and doing something that is intended to benefit him or her.   Kindness is the opposite of selfishness, it is putting aside our interests for a while and thinking about the other, doing something that benefits the other, and not oneself. 

Why is it so important to cultivate empathy and kindness in childhood? 

First of all, it is very important to know that a child who shows empathy and kindness to others has a much higher chance of success in the future than those who do not

A child who is empathetic and kind is going to be loved more, is going to be surrounded by supportive people, is going to be less involved in fights, and is more likely to continue with these values in his/her adult life. The earlier a child is taught to be empathetic and help others, the more likely it is that this will become entrenched in him and projected in their future life, with their friends, family, authorities, and even those people with whom they may not have a close relationship. 

Children learn from us since they are babies and we are responsible for teaching them these important values for their lives that will not only help them to develop with success but also feel fulfilled and in harmony with themselves. 

Simple ways to build these values in our children:

  • Reading stories is one of the best ways to cultivate empathy in our children. Through this activity, we get the child involved with the characters and we can take advantage of it to ask them about their feelings. Questions such as How is x feeling? Why does he/she feel this way? What could make x feel better? are excellent ways to teach our children to understand emotions, differentiate between their own and others', and seek solutions to help others feel better (which also cultivates acts of kindness). 
  • Children learn from us, so another excellent way is to show them how we feel. Examples such as "I'm tired after a long day at work, would you help me set the table" or " It makes me sad that you talk to me that way" help the child to see the other's perspective, to understand what they are feeling, and learn how to name different emotions. 
  • It is also very important that the children are able to talk about their emotions at home. When they come home from school or at dinner time it can be a great  moment to talk about how everyone felt during the day. Some questions that can be helpful for this moment are: Did someone do something funny today? Did someone do something kind? Who made you smile? Did anything make you feel scared today? Did anyone cry today? Did anyone get hurt today? Who did you play with at recess today?.

With this kind of questions, we work on empathy, since we show the child that we are interested in knowing about him/her and how he/ she feels, and we also work on kindness since we make him think not only about them but also about his peers. 

  • Another way to strengthen empathy and kindness is to teach your child about diversity, help them know people who are different from them whether by gender, skin color, or life experience. You can choose books or television programs that include these stories. This allows the child to not only be kind to those who are similar to him/her or who are part of his/her daily group. 
  • Finally, we can cultivate these values by teaching our children how to include kind actions in his/her everyday life. An example could be donating money to charity, helping an elderly in the street, or if they are older  going to  volunteer somewhere they choose.  If the child is too young,  the adult can do some of these actions and the child can observe. A child who grows up in an empathetic place, who cares and helps others is much more likely to reinforce these values in his or her personal life. 

We all want a united and more equitable world, and we are working as a society to achieve it. One place where we can begin to cultivate acts of kindness is in our home, teaching our children and leaving a legacy that makes us feel fulfilled.

“Kindness is a silent smile, a friendly word, a nod of encouragement. Kindness is the single most powerful thing we can teach children” RAKtivist.