As the world becomes ever more connected, it’s increasingly important that children learn how to communicate effectively with those around them. By instilling the importance of kindness and empathy at a young age, parents will not only help their children live happy and productive lives but also guide them to develop positive character traits as healthy, well-rounded individuals.
Simply put, empathy refers to the ability to both identify another person’s emotional state and imagine what that person is going through. Today, researchers and psychologists commonly differentiate between two types of empathy:
- Affective empathy: The feelings we get in reaction to someone else’s emotions. This can involve mirroring these sentiments or even just feeling stressed when detecting outside anxiety or fear. A common example of affective empathy is when we involuntarily smile as we see someone else smile.
- Cognitive empathy: The ability to understand and identify the feelings and emotions of others. This is commonly known as “perspective taking” or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
While empathy does not always lead to moral decision making, in which a person must both feel and act on feelings of altruism, research has shown that it is often a crucial first step. Psychologist Daniel Baston agrees, and argues that there is evidence that the feeling of empathy increases the likelihood of helping someone else.
Encouraging Kindness Through Positive Parenting
While each family is unique and requires varying parenting strategies, teaching empathy often begins with embracing positive parenting strategies that provide for the needs of a child consistently and unconditionally. Positive parenting can be summarized as:
- Caring, nurturing and empowering
- Always nonviolent
- Maintaining regular, open communication
- Providing affection and emotional security
- Rewarding accomplishments
- Supporting a child’s best interests
Another way to understand positive parenting is to avoid its opposite approach: negative parenting, which occurs if a parent frequently expresses negative emotions toward a child or relies heavily on punitive measures or consequences. According to one long-term study published in Child Development, the effects of negative parenting can be detrimental to infants as young as 3 months old.
Because humans are social beings, and our brains give us the ability to anticipate, predict and mirror the emotions of other people, one of the most effective ways parents can teach their children to empathize is by prioritizing in-person communication from an early age. While texting and messaging through social media platforms is convenient, it’s important not to let these methods take the place of face-to-face interaction.
Encouraging children to express gratitude is another way to help them develop greater empathy. One way for families to do this is to design gratitude journals and record things they feel grateful for. At the end of each week or month, parents and children can share some of the things they have written. As research has shown that documenting what we are grateful for has the ability to improve our physical and mental health, this activity can be especially helpful during the uncertainty we all are experiencing through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do You Have Tips to Share?
How have you taught your child the importance of caring for others? We would love for you to share your experiences with us on our Facebook page!
For more resources that can support your child’s learning, we invite you to check out our blog.