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Teaching Empathy & Compassion

Perspective taking is a precursor to both empathy and compassion. Perspective taking is a skill your child needs in order to be successful in life. To build and refine this skill, encourage your child to put themselves in other's shoes. Asking questions such as, "What do you think she is thinking right now?" or "Why do you think this is so important to him? " will get your child thinking from a different perspective. If your child struggles with this, and most will, offer some alternatives for your child to consider. This skill can be practiced in any situation. Books are wonderful opportunities for teaching perspective taking!

One barrier kids (and some adults) face in regard to empathy, involves having difficulty identifying their own emotions. Teaching kids to recognize and identify their own feelings can aid them in understanding others' emotions. When you notice your child is upset, ask them to explain why and then help them identify their feelings. There are a number of "feeling charts" that can be used to help children (and adults) identify their emotions. One of my favorites for children can be found at Combine teaching emapthy with the suggestions for teaching perspective taking and have your kids try to identify other's feelings in different situations.

One of the easiest ways to nurture empathy and compassion is through modeling. The more your kids observe you engaging compassionately, the more natural this behavior will become for them. All kids, however, do not learn from modeling. So, talking through your perspective taking, empathy and compassion process can be a big help. For example, maybe you live next to an elderly neighbor and mother nature dropped a few inches of snow overnight. Say something like, "I know Betty can't shovel her own driveway (perspective taking). She must feel worried about getting to her doctor's appointment this afternoon (empathy). I'm going to shovel her driveway this morning so she doesn't have to worry about it (compassion). Want to help?"

Teaching children to appreciate others' perspectives, consider others' feelings and engage in helpful behaviors takes very little time and can be accomplished throughout your normal daily activities. These skills help children grow into thoughtful, kind adults. The world can always use more of those!

by Trish Carter, LIMHP, LPC, BCN

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