As your child ages, they go through 3 levels of empathy. Let me share some tips that will help deepen your child’s empathy as they reach each stage.
When emotions are acknowledged, talked about, and given respect, that is when your child becomes empowered and confident, instead of being at the mercy of their own (or others) emotions.
The first level is “emotional sharing.” Emotional sharing happens when a child feels distressed watching other people suffer. When toddlers hear a baby crying, they often ask why and start to become anxious themselves.
This is the perfect time to engage your child in a discussion even if they’re only two years old. Talk to them about the causes and effects of emotions. Ask them why they think the baby is crying and how they can show they care. Just engage your child and talk to them about beliefs, desires, and goals. Even if they’re really small, you can use simple language.
The second level is “empathic concern.” Empathic concern is the motivation to care for others who are vulnerable or distressed.
At Acton Academy, we help children cultivate empathy by focusing on filling other people’s buckets. We engage the children and always ask “Are you a bucket filler or a bucket dipper?” We also focus on self-reflection and evaluate what we could have done better each day for others.
The third level is “perspective taking.” Perspective taking is the ability to consciously put yourself in the mind of another person or in someone else’s scenario.
You can help your child cultivate empathy by helping them discover what they have in common with other people. As adults, we tend to feel greater empathy when we perceive somebody to have something in common with us. And the part that really sharpens empathy is when you have a discussion about it.
Teaching mindfulness meditation and compassion meditation is also an effective way to cultivating empathy. Teach your child to relax on their own. Even a 10-15 minute daily meditation at home is powerful.
I hope these tips will come in handy for you as your child grows in their empathy and emotional intelligence.