Child empathy is a critical construct for parenting. Instilling empathy in our children requires intention and awareness, but can be fun for both parties, and can produce happy young citizens.
I spent the latter part of my 30s searching for my purpose and the answer to the question, “Why was I put on this earth?” At the time, I was recently divorced and trying to raise my two little kids as a single, working, divorced mother. I wasn’t feeling joy. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I was barely getting by. Something felt missing and something had to give. I started reading all the self-improvement books I could get my hands on, because feeling like I was feeling wasn’t serving me. I stumbled upon the Law of Attraction, and it intrigued me. If we could create or manifest joy and abundance in our lives, I wanted to know how! So I kept reading and learning about gratitude and how to change my thoughts from lack to abundance, from fear to allowing, and from negative to positive.
While I was consumed with trying to figure this out for myself, I started thinking how important it would be if I could raise my kids with this in mind. Raise them so as not to impose limiting beliefs or boundaries about what their lives should be like or what they should do with their lives. Raise them in a way so they would grow up knowing what their purpose was, so they could discover what they were put on this earth to do and feel fulfilled and aligned with their true selves. Imagine growing up knowing this (or discovering this as a kid), instead of searching for the answer in your 30s or 40s? As I seriously began to contemplate this, I realized the starting point for this could be summed up in one word: empathy.
The impetus for making this shift in my parenting that would awaken my kids’ authentic and true selves was…empathy.
Webster’s definition of empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” Empathy is the most important ingredient when it comes to raising kids to be true to themselves and their purpose. In order to grow up with an awareness of their true desires, kids need to have an innate sense of how others feel. They need to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Being able to do this will allow them to live out their truth and come from a place of gratitude.
In terms of instilling this in my kids, I have a slight advantage considering my day job. I am a school social worker. My kids almost didn’t have a choice in learning this character trait. I thought it extremely important for them to realize (at an early age) that the world didn’t revolve around them. Some people have a really tough go at it, and life isn’t always easy or kind. And if someone is going through hard times, we should help if we can. We had lots of conversations about empathy, and what it must feel like for some families who don’t have enough foodor heat or a home. While these conversations were a great start, we had to do something. My daughter wanted to have a hot- chocolate stand and donate the money we made to our local animal shelter. So we did that. The shelter was very appreciative and put the kids in their newsletter with a little blurb about their donation. At Christmas, we donated food to our local food pantry. We all went shopping together and brought the groceries directly to the church.
These experiences of doing helped to foster an understanding that helping others results in feeling good because they felt good doing it.
It wasn’t just a conversation about why they should help others and how it would make them feel. They experienced it. The result of experiencing rather than just talking about it was to watch empathy develop and grow in them. The hope, for me, was that it became automatic and innate, that it would be instinctive and not deliberate. The more you weave these themes into your conversations and make them a part of your family, the more they shape and become a part of who you are. You have to do what works for your family, whether it’s donating during the holidays or cleaning out clothes that don’t fit, or giving away toys the kids don’t play with anymore. You can find community organizations that are meaningful to you and your family and start there. They key is to make your children participants in the conversation and the experience.
Make empathy a practice in your life and your kids’ lives, and watch them awaken and unfold into the compassionate and authentic souls they were meant to be.
I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver
~ Maya Angelou
Visit meghansphillips.com and download a free empathy exercise