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If You Teach Your Kids Empathy, They Will Not Only Be Kinder, They Will Be More Successful

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Photograph by Twenty20

You don’t have to dive deep into Google to find scores of stories in popular business magazines and journals citing the need for and benefits of empathy:

“Want to lead, design, write, or relate? Start with empathy,” counseled a recent story in Fast Company.

“Never has there been a time in business when empathy was needed more,” posits Forbes.

“Empathy in business dealings, especially for the entrepreneur, are vital to maintaining sustainable success,” comes from Entrepreneur.

“Companies try a new strategy: empathy training,” states a recent headline in the Wall Street Journal.

MORE: Incredible Acts of Kindness

An exhaustive study by the Center for Creative Leadership (data from 6,731 managers in 38 countries) found last year that having empathy translates to success as a colleague, a manager and as a leader.

The thing is it’s up to us parents to teach our kids empathy. Most psychologists agree that empathy is a trait that needs to be reinforced in kids, if not taught outright.

“Good humans take time,” Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist, wrote in the new parenting anthology “toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Kids.”

"We need to remember that empathy will not develop overnight. Nor will a lack of empathy show up all at once. Parents need to pay attention, be engaged, and be patient," Walfish says.

She offers easy ways we can incorporate teaching empathy into our daily lives as parents.

10 Ways to Teach Our Kids Empathy

1. Choose one thing about your child that you can express appreciation to them about. “I love how gentle you are with the kitty cat” or “You did a nice thing when you helped your brother make his bed.”

2. Ask yourself, “What is my child feeling?” especially during difficult moments. Imagine yourself as a 10-year-old who had no one to sit with during lunch at school. How would you feel? Then use those feelings to empathize with your son.

3. Follow through on every promise to your children. Consistency is a key element in establishing both boundaries and empathy, and your children need to know they can always depend on you for both.

4. Understand the huge impact that you have on your kids. For better or worse, your children model your behavior. If you smoke, drink, stay out late and party, then do not be surprised if your teenage children do the same thing.

5. Involve your children in a volunteer or service project that helps others. When kids see the result of a good deed, it instills the importance of it in their minds. It also becomes personal and helps empathy to grow.

6. Learn to listen by reflecting your child’s thoughts and feelings back to them. Be sure they are your son’s or daughter’s feelings and not your feelings though. Listen.

7. Ask questions such as, “What can I do to help?” and “What do you need?” Sometimes kids do not know how to express their wants and needs, and it takes a series of gentle questions to find out what is going on.

8. Observe how your kids express their feelings, and take special note of their body language and other nonverbal communication. A child who says “Hi” with a bright face, smile and a skip in her walk is in a different place emotionally than a child who says “Hi” with her eyes downcast and her shoulders slumped.

9. Maintain a home environment that is emotionally safe, friendly and facilitates open communication. Your children need to know that whatever the situations is, they can come to you without being raged at.

10. Pay attention. Be engaged. Be patient. Remember: Good Humans Take Time.

For more tough LOVE tips for growing good humans and good parents, check out "toughLOVE: Raising Confident, Kind, Resilient Children," now available on Amazon. Dr. Walfish and the other experts are in-the-trenches therapists and coaches working with real families every day.

For more information about psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish, visit her website, DrFranWalfish.com.

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