We all want to “fix it” when someone close to us is upset or suffering in some way. It’s hard to just be with someone in their discomfort without doing something. But empathy, simply defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” is just that—it’s not providing a solution. It’s making someone feel heard and understood.
"Building an understanding of what others are feeling, how their own actions can impact others, and why someone might be experiencing feelings at a particular time is a valuable life skill for children to possess. It helps them to build a sense of security and stronger relationships with other children and with educators, positioning them well for learning. It also encourages tolerance and acceptance of others, and promotes good mental health.” - Goodstart Early Learning, “Why Teaching Children Empathy is More Important Than Ever”
There are lots of ways to work on this with kids: talk to them about how others may be feeling. Have them participate in taking care of someone or something else (a pet, a plant, an elderly relative) so they begin to understand that they can play an important role in someone else’s well-being. Help your child name her feelings, especially the big ones!
Another simple tool is books, as children learn to associate feelings with their favorite characters and stories.
Do you have go-to books or other methods for helping children understand and practice this social-emotional skill? I’d love to hear. Please comment and let me know!
PS: Children who are better at regulating their negative emotions tend to show greater empathic concern for others (Song et al 2017). Here’s where mindfulness comes in. The ability to self-regulate is a benefit of simple, consistent mindfulness practice!