Why teaching children empathy is more important than ever
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone else and understand what they are feeling or experiencing.
In the early years of life, young children are naturally ego-centric and are very much inclined to think mostly about themselves and their immediate needs. They’re not yet ready to consider the needs and feelings of others.
But developing a sense of empathy is an important developmental process for young children, and one that can benefit them not only in childhood but well into adult life as well.
Why is developing empathy important for children?
Building an understanding of what others are feeling, how their own actions can impact on others, and why someone might be experiencing feelings at a particular time is a valuable life skill for children to possess.
Helping young children to develop a strong sense of empathy is beneficial because:
- It helps them to build a sense of security and stronger relationships with other children and educators, positioning them well for learning
- It encourages tolerance and acceptance of others
- It promotes good mental health
- It promotes social harmony and can reduce the likelihood of bullying
The benefits of empathetic thinking flow into adult life too. Empathetic adults may have:
- Greater success personally and professionally
- Higher levels of overall happiness
- A better ability to understand others, like customers or co-workers
- More success in leadership positions
- More satisfying relationships and be better at dealing with conflict
- Lower levels of stress
These benefits are just the tip of the iceberg too, as this amazing scientifically-backed infographic
In a nutshell, developing empathy is a vital building block in a child’s ability to regulate their emotions
and is so valuable in being able to adapt and succeed in an ever-changing world.
How can we help children develop empathy?
Parents are children’s first and most enduring teachers, and modelling empathetic behaviour is one of the best ways parents can teach their child this valuable skill.
Other simple ways empathy can be developed include:
- Helping your child to name their feelings, as understanding their own feelings is an important first step in understanding the feelings of others
- Talking to your child about how other people may be feeling, and why. This helps to build their emotional language and think about other people’s perspectives.
- Caring for animals and plants, which helps children understand the role they play in helping another living thing survive, thrive and be happy.
Perhaps one of the simplest ways of all to help children develop a sense of empathy is by reading books together, as children learn to associate feelings and actions with their favourite characters and stories.