Empathy: This is how children learn compassion

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Compassion – a skill that makes our world better – our author believes. She would love to introduce empathy as a school subject, until that happens, she has collected a few ideas on how we can teach our children to become understanding and empathetic people.

An outburst of anger because of a shovel or sliced ​​bread, tantrums because of supposed trivialities with the smaller children, nagging and freaking out with the older children. At some point every parent asks themselves: Is that still in the frame? Did we make a narcissist? How do we turn the little lump of anger into an empathetic person? We have collected here once how to support children in their development and, above all, to strengthen their skills for compassion and empathy.

Empathy, what is that anyway?

In a nutshell: empathy is the ability to see what is going on in another. There are different models of how empathy is composed. The best known is the "Interpersonal Reactivity Index" by Davis, according to which the following skills make us empathic:

  1. By Takeover of perspective we are able to adopt and understand the point of view of others.
  2. The Ability to have feelings for others, that is, love other people, care for them or be happy for them – be compassionate.
  3. Personal concern: Empathizing and empathizing with others when they have bad or negative experiences. We feel uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed ourselves
  4. We can the Share and empathize with the feelings of fictional characters and identify with them.

Why is empathy so important to us?

Basically, it's very simple: Healthy, social togetherness, stable relationships at eye level, appreciative, loyal friendships and the ability to work in a team at work only work if we act empathically. If we can't, it will be difficult. Compassion, understanding, support – all of these qualities are based on empathy. But not only that, healthy arguing, constructive criticism and also accepting the limits of others are based on having empathy for our counterpart. The foundation stone for this is laid in childhood – in the sandpit, on the climbing frame, during role play in daycare. Sometimes it's not so easy to back off, to agree with others or to apologize for unfair behavior.

From me, me, me to me, you, us

When we come into the world, first of all it's about bare survival. But between the ages of three and four, our mirror neurons are so developed that we can understand the feelings and actions of others. The foundation stone has been laid and now it's time to train. Because unfortunately empathy has to be practiced until it is firmly anchored in our system. Here comes the training plan for parents and children.

# 1 Be a role model

We parents are the closest caregivers for their children and of course also role models. We should therefore not only be empathetic towards our children, but also towards our fellow human beings. That means: whether we are interested in others, how we deal with their worries and fears, whether we talk about feelings, help each other and also whether we get involved. It is therefore all the more important to take a look at yourself, question your own patterns and see whether you are really benevolent with yourself and your surroundings. Certainly not always successful, but self-reflection is always the first step.

# 2 Go at eye level

Unconditional trust in the love of their parents and the security that we are there for them with open ears and arms for worries and problems makes our children strong. And that succeeds especially when they feel they are being taken seriously and seen. So if we listen to what our children have to tell us, perceive them and their needs as much as our own, are in contact with each other instead of talking about each other and without taboos, but of course age-appropriate, then a close and deep one emerges from it Relationship in which all family members are equal. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't set limits, but that they are understandable and understandable for everyone. It starts very simply with the language we use and how we say something.

# 3 Time for each other

It sounds simple, but it often gets lost in everyday life: actively spending time together. Cell phone aside, TV and laptop off and really busy with each other. This not only expresses appreciation, but also offers space for exchange and discussions. Above all, the interest in the things that are important to the child creates a connection. And what we should especially give our children along the way: You are exactly right and good the way you are.

# 4 learn feelings

For children, dealing with their own feelings is already a difficult learning process. Anger, sadness, shame and fear are emotions that you first have to learn to deal with. Just because a child doesn't react empathically to others doesn't mean they aren't empathetic. But only when children learn to recognize and control their own feelings can they be more emphatic towards others. We can support them in this learning process by encouraging them to talk about feelings and initially to give them a name. After all, a child who feels anger for the first time does not know what that grumpy feeling in the stomach is. Conflict situations can also be discussed and practiced in this way: Who felt how and why? Naming feelings and practicing listening actively helps to understand others better as well.

# 5 Write a diary together

A ritual that is good not only for our children, but also for ourselves: Every evening write down what was particularly great that day. This is not only a nice ritual to end the day as a family, but also trains the eye for the positive. Different questions can be answered, for example:

  • "What was the best part of your day today? What was the hardest part?"
  • "What do you want to do more / less of tomorrow?"
  • "What did you achieve today that you were happy about?"
  • "What good has someone done for you today? What good have you done for others?"
  • "What good have you done to yourself today?"
  • "What are you grateful for today?"

It doesn't have to be big, and even if the answers repeat themselves every day, it doesn't matter. To even deal with what has happened good to you during the day already steers our gaze in a different direction.

# 6 Strengthen a sense of community

The easiest way to learn social skills is in dealing with others, both in amicable relationships and in conflict situations. So everything we experience in communities promotes our sense of others. It can be a team sport, a hobby that is practiced in a group, a joint project, something charitable. Anyone who supports their child here, for example to take part in community projects, strengthens the social skills of their offspring across the board.

# 7 family council

Empathy is always about the balance between one's own needs and those of others and about mutual respect. You can also practice this within the family at regular family meetings. For example, the family can sit down to discuss conflicts, weekly routines or wishes.

# 8 Emotional control through mindfulness

We know that feelings simply overwhelm us and we feel at their mercy. So you can really imagine how our children feel. You have to learn to gain the upper hand over your feelings and to keep them there. Breathing exercises in particular help to regain calm in the storm of emotions. It is best to train this in relaxed situations so that you can also access it when the anger makes its way. It is also important to learn from an early age to take care of your own well-being and to be mindful of yourself. Our task as parents is to support our children in this and to take them seriously.

# 9 Practice, practice, practice

It's all a matter of practice. The more often we use empathic behavior, the more it solidifies in us. So it is also important for our children: train! There has been a lot of discussion about including emotional education as a school subject. In many situations this would certainly make a lot more sense than knowing physical equations that you can look up every time anyway, the ability to strut over a bar or discuss curves.