Is empathy innate in children or is it a learned behavior...or both?
I remember an incident when Sienna was 3 and Jacklyn was 1. Jacklyn fell down and started crying and Sienna just walked right by her not even paying attention. I responded to Jacklyn's needs and helped her. Does it mean that Sienna is selfish because she didn't help her sister? Of course not. Well, actually she is. Kids naturally have to be somewhat selfish as a survival mechanism in order to cope with life as a child. As they get older they start learning empathy through others modeling the behavior and also receiving empathy when they are having a challenging time.
Here are a few ways to help your child learn empathy.
1. Ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to allow your children to learn empathy by thinking for themselves. This is much more effective than simply telling them what to do or how to feel. Here are a few examples.
- If your child is doing something unkind to a friend or sibling...ask them to look at the child and ask the child if he or she looks like they like what your child is doing. I use this a lot with Sienna when she is playing too rough with her sister.
- If you hear about something challenging that happened to someone...ask your child, "How do you think they felt when that happened?". You could also ask questions like, "What if you were REALLY, REALLY hungry but didn't have any food? Do you think it would be hard to live that way?" These types of questions provoke some understanding of other people's hard ships.
2. Get involved. Life gets hectic when you are trying to juggle activities, school, work, etc. but if you take just an hour a month to give back (in any capacity) you will find volunteering very rewarding and easy. You can find many opportunities at local churches or on this website
3. Look into Kids Start Up Organizations. Have you heard about all the amazing start up organizations founded by kids? It is truly amazing how many children are coming up with great ideas to give money to charities. If your child is an innovative, creative kid than why not help them start their own organization to give back to those in need! It could be something good you do together and your child will love it!!
Check out this cool site!
Kids giving back http://kidsgivingback.org/