Hatred and violence seem widespread in the world today. Television programmes and news sites report about non-tolerance in different forms on a daily basis. Our own schools and neighbourhoods are not devoid of aggression either.
As parents, we wonder about the world we are raising our kids in; we ponder on how we can guide them into being kind, compassionate, and accepting human beings.
Experts say that being empathetic towards others doesn’t come naturally to young kids. By being good examples, however, parents can guide their children into acquiring this virtue.
Ms. Fiona Walker, the CEO and principal of Julia Gabriel Education, shares with us the value of teaching kids empathy. A holder of a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a qualified Montessori teacher, she has more than 20 years of experience in providing quality education to young children.
How does empathy affect the overall development of a child’s character?
We all hope our children will grow up to be happy and successful in whatever they choose to do in life.
Ideally, we also hope they will develop into kind, caring and compassionate human beings, aware of what is happening in the world around them, willing to contribute positively wherever possible.
To do this they require empathy. This is perhaps the most meaningful quality we can encourage in our children because our ability to love, respect and understand how others feel stems from how empathetic we are as individuals.
Children who demonstrate high levels of empathy are more likely to develop into self-contained, non-judgmental, open-minded, and giving adults.
Some children are more instinctively empathetic than others at a young age, with studies indicating that girls tend to be more so than boys. But empathy is a skill that can be learned – and as always, the earlier the better!
Does empathy give kids an edge in school and in life in general?
Children who are empathetic are more likely to succeed at school and consequently in their careers. They are usually socially more confident with a healthy level of self-concept.
Employers are increasingly seeking candidates who possess high levels of emotional intelligence because they demonstrate strong communication skills, are good at building relationships and [are] more likely to have a positive influence on a team.
Empathy is widely recognised as one of the most important qualities a leader in any field can possess. An empathetic leader is thoughtful as well as intellectually competent. These days, “someone’s Emotional Quotient (EQ – measure of empathy and levels of self-awareness) is as important as their Intellectual Quotient (IQ).”
What can parents do to foster empathy in children?
Young children rarely show empathy consistently, so avoid unrealistic expectations of your child’s behaviour. Instead:
- Travel overseas or around multi-cultural Singapore! Enable them to experience the customs and language of other cultures.
- Read stories about people of different races, colour and religion or about families less fortunate than your own.
- Watch environmental documentaries that open a window to a wider world.
Caring for a pet helps children learn responsibility and understand the needs of another living being.
- Role model empathy yourself! Show your interest in and enjoyment of the diversity of this planet, as you demonstrate kindness towards others. Your child is more likely to follow suit.
- Talk! Communicate openly within your family about your feelings and your child’s. A child who feels safe to communicate openly develops emotional fluency and the ability to handle different kinds of relationships.
- Praise your child when they demonstrate empathy. They will want to repeat what you praise!
At the end of the day, your children will forge their own path in life. By encouraging the development of empathy as early as possible, though, you can be sure that you are giving them the best possible start!