January Character Trait Focus: EMPATHY

Empathy is often defined as the ability to identify with the
suffering of another. It is however more complicated than this.
Humans are able to show empathy in three different ways:
reflexive, emotional and cognitive. As part of the executive
functions of the brain, the skills needed to have empathy are
complex and build upon one another. Developing the trait of
empathy in children is important because it enables them to
form and sustain relationships with others and helps them to
self-regulate their behavior in different social settings.
How can parents and educators teach empathy?
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Meet their needs – Treat the children in your life with
empathy. If children are shown empathy when they are
dealing with their own problems, then they will learn to show
it to others.
2. Lead by example – Modeling cognitive empathy and
narrating your thought processes out loud will give them a
template that will guide how they process events. Point out
situations that call for empathy. When reading a book about
a character who is going through a hard time, talk about how
that character must be feeling. Ask the child how he would
feel in the same position.
3. Help them find common ground – Kids are more likely
to feel empathy for those who they see as similar to them.
Help the children in your life discover what they have in
common with others – particularly others with whom they’ve
had conflict in the past.
4. Practice changing roles and perspectives – Ask
children to pretend to be someone else in a hard situation.
How do they feel in this situation? What would make them
feel better? Kids like to pretend, and this is something that
can help them practice the executive function of perspective
taking. Even the simple act of asking a child, “How would
you feel if …?” can diffuse a fight and help the child see things
from a different point of view.
5. Foster a happy environment – The good feelings that
come from positive social interactions make children more
adept at accurately reading the feelings of others.
For additional information and more ideas – see source: