Due to the rise of technology – effective communication, empathy, active listening and real conversations are becoming more of a thing of the past. This is due to the fact that a huge part of most people’s relationships and communication exist online. Unfortunately, Gen Y and Gen Z have not been taught how to effectively communicate, to have real and meaningful conversations, avoiding conflict and difficult conversations, thus not actively employing the skill of empathy. Is empathy being taught in schools? In Universities? In Business schools? If not, when and where then? Empathy is a huge part of our lives and how we communicate and make decisions. Going forward two things are needed – as these are skills that can be taught and fostered – we need early intervention and at the other end, businesses/ corporations need to teach these critical skills. I’m currently studying a Diploma in Leadership and Management at AIM – so at this point in time, with my current/past experience and qualifications, I feel I can only write on how to create empathy in your child, as opposed to in a business setting.
Where to start? What is empathy? The good news is that empathy can be taught and cultivated and I don’t just mean learning how to send emoji’s to people – which will NEVER replace a human voice or touch. Empathy is multi-faceted and basically, it is about understanding the emotions of other people from their perspective and being genuinely concerned and interested about others, which is one of the foundations for strong and lasting relationships. Research has shown that when people have empathy it can have huge positive impacts individually and as a society and to go further, researchers also say it is crucial to a humane future. It amazes me how advanced we are and connected globally as a society, yet becoming so unadvanced and disconnected as a society in the basics of humanity. So, for children this means that empathy equals fostering positive friendships and helps in reducing conflicts, misunderstandings and bullying.
One of the most important places to start with your child is you yourself, modelling empathy, within the family home and with others outside the home. It is no secret now that children watch, learn and listen from us and when they experience empathy from a parent, they develop trust which gives them the stability required to value others. Children see how we interact with other people from all walks of life and will learn from how we treat other people, noticing who we esteem and who we don’t, who and how we show empathy to and who we don’t.
We have seen such selfless acts of humanity since Covid19 appeared, which has been really encouraging to see, and it’s a pity it took a pandemic for this to happen. So, encouraging your child to find ways to be helpful and think of others, so they are not self-focused 24/7 is also a good place to start. Highlighting to them other people doing great selfless things (from small to huge) for humanity and it will encourage them to start thinking – how can they make a difference to someone else’s life. It is never too late to start, the need for an emphasis to be placed upon human value and making true and empathetic connections in society has to continue to grow now.
To encourage and instil in your child to show appreciation, thankfulness and gratitude toward and for other people, including people they know and those they don’t is another positive step in creating empathy in your child. Otherwise, this attitude of me, me, me and I, I, I can creep in and take hold and lead to a very unfulfilled life. Research has shown that embracing thankfulness leads to a higher likelihood of increased happiness, contentment and strong social relationships. You can be thankful for so many people, life lessons, situations and the list keeps on going and in addition, the list should not be focused on material things which are fleeting and never bring longevity of satisfaction.
In my early days of parenting – like 18 years ago, I wanted everything to be rosy, to be perfect and for us to be happy all the time, like that song in the Lego movie ‘Everything is Awesome’ (Eeekkk! Sorry guys). Whoops, to teach your child to accept and not avoid or ignore difficult emotions and conversations, or brush over them or pretend they don’t exist, you have giving them the message that you’re not empathetic to how they feel and that those kind of feelings should virtually be ignored and are not important. Instead teaching your child HOW to deal with anger, anxiety, fear etc. would be a more beneficial approach, which is a huge part of life, as we need to learn how to cope with all of our feelings, so they then in turn help others to deal with their emotions as they get older.
Of course there are so many other activities you could do with your children that aren’t contained in this blog on ‘How To Create Empathy In Your Child’, there are books, movies, role plays etc and other fantastic information available out there – the thing is, you have to make a plan and actually do it!