Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. It’s being able to understand and be sensitive to people’s feelings whether they are strangers, friends or family members. With empathy comes gratitude, hope and compassionate for others. Many of our children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and other life challenges struggle with the concept of “Theory of Mind” which impairs their ability to identify and understand the thoughts and perceptions of others. It’s important for parents and professionals to start training our children as early as possible how to tune in to other people’s emotions. Children need to know that they can consider people’s feelings other than just their own.
If you would like to make a conscious effort to boost such positive experiences for your young one, below are a few tips to get it done:
Take notice of everyone around you
When someone is rude to the waiter when he/she brings the wrong order, understand that your child is likely to take notice. One of the best ways to teach our kids anything is by being an example. So be understanding in all these situations in the presence of our child and model the behavior we want them to replicate.
Write ‘thank-you’ notes together
It’s important for our children to learn how to show gratitude to others. Convey to our child that the recipient of that note would feel happy when they receive it. Let our child know that you are doing this to make the person feel appreciated and how this can lead to better experiences making and keeping friends.
Stay on course
Remember that kids watch your every move. We need to be consistent when it comes to displaying empathy to others. This could mean watching how you communicate as parents or professionals and apologizing in front of the kids if you say hurtful or inconsiderate things to each other.
Make it a tradition to talk and discuss together during dinner, other meals, or snacks. You can start by encouraging our child to write a daily journal discussing something good that was done for them that day. This emotional reflection can serve to empower our child to feel loved and cared for which will increase their ability to feel the same for others.
Understand our child’s needs
Sometimes our child will be a little grumpy just because she/he is angry or sleepy or hungry. It is important to show her/him that you acknowledge how they’re feeling. Don’t be quick to put off our child when she/he acts up. Be calm and show understanding of what they’re going through. Encourage them to express themselves using their verbal tools.
Volunteer with our child
(Dependent on the abilities of our child) It’s important for our child to know some of the realities of life as soon as possible. It could mean taking them to the homeless shelter to help in serving food every Christmas. Acts like this will show kids that they have been blessed and are required to help others. Children need to see that helping the needy is a responsibility and not something they can choose not to do.
Expose them to life’s differences
(Dependent on the abilities of our child) Present kids with an opportunity to encounter people who are different. For instance, taking our kids to interact with other children who have special needs will help them to know how to handle someone who is not exactly like them even as they grow up. Children need to be shown that there are other kids with serious medical issues and need to be shown empathy. Talk to your kids regarding this before you decide to take them.
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