If there’s one thing we’ve learned from COVID-19, it’s that our actions impact others, and to feel remorse when we make a mistake. Conversely, it also feels like stay-at-home orders are making us more me-focused, doesn’t it? We’re all about our kids and ourselves. This could be a golden opportunity to practice empathy and teach it to our kids.
Empathy is how we make connections with others. It’s the ability to understand and experience how they feel and respond with understanding. in helpful ways. Well-known lecturer and author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers, Brené Brown, explains it this way:
Empathy is feeling with people. It’s when someone is in a deep hole and they shout out from the bottom, ‘I’m stuck. It’s dark. I’m overwhelmed;’ and we respond by climbing down and telling them, ‘I know what it’s like down there and you’re not alone.’”
Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human and is the foundation for acting ethically, building good relationships, loving well, and living successful lives. It is one of the 16 Habits of Success that Prepared Parent’s tips and tools are rooted in. So, how do we nurture it in the midst of a pandemic?
Practicing empathy in the family
Put yourself in your kid’s shoes.
When we empathize with our kid, we’re developing a trusting, secure attachment. This becomes a virtuous cycle as they now want to adopt our values and model our behavior. So, now they can step into our shoes.
- Show them they matter.
- Tune into their needs and help them label their emotions.
- Choose words wisely to respond to how they feel like, “I know you’re feeling sad right now, but I’m here for you.”
- Understand their personality.
- Take a genuine interest in their lives.
- Guide them towards activities that recognize who they are.
Teach your kid self-care.
Kids may not express empathy because another feeling is blocking the way. Their ability to care for others may be overwhelmed by anger, shame, or jealousy. Helping children manage these negative feelings can release empathy within themselves.
- Ask your kid to Identify their feelings and encourage them to talk to you about why they’re feeling that way.
- Try a mindfulness exercise. During this time of uncertainty these exercises can help kids to calm down and become more aware of their moods and thoughts.
- Identify areas of conflict and then work together to find resolutions.
Resist your urge to “fix it” for them.
Honoring our kid’s feelings doesn’t mean we fix it for them, as that strips them of their agency. Instead, we put on our listening ears and really listen without distractions to be in tune with them.
Don’t encourage your kid to play the victim.
Another unintended consequence of really listening to your kid can be that it also may encourage them to play the victim to get your attention. How to avoid this? Once your kid calms down, get into problem-solving mode. Together brainstorm on What would I do differently if I traveled back in time? Don’t feed injustice or deny it. Instead, try role playing with your kid and craft an alternate scenario.
Practicing empathy to others
Even though you’re socially distancing, don’t emotionally distance. Talk to your kid about how to stay connected and ask them to make a list of ideas like these:
- Write thank you letters to essential workers.
- Leave a plate of cookies for the mail carrier or trash collectors.
- Call an elderly neighbor to check in.
- Do something kind for a sibling or parent.
Adopt a worldview.
COVID-19 impacts the entire world. Broaden your kid’s circle of concern by talking about how the virus affects the homeless, the poor, and those living in third world countries. This is an opportunity for a real-world learning moment. Begin with a problem, question, or challenge regarding COVID-19’s global influence.
- Ask your kid to perform a task that directly addresses the problem. This will move them towards finding a solution.
- Give feedback that will lead to further addressing the problem so that they see improvement as they continue.
- Ask your kid to develop a way to present their solution to the problem. This can be a model, a designed website, a campaign, building plan or even a business idea that can resolve the issue they’re looking at.
Be kind to each other.
It’s easy to get irritated with each other when you’re living together all the time. Ask your kid to put themselves in your shoes (or their sibling’s) and reflect on ways to practice kindness in the household.
Absolutely the best way to teach our kids anything, including empathy, is to model it for them. Practice all of the above steps for yourself too.
If you’re looking to learn more about practicing and teaching empathy, there are several books to choose from to teach young kids about empathy.
Read more about practicing and teaching empathy in Prepared Parents Co-founder and Executive Director’s op-ed in Memphis Parent about practicing empathy during a pandemic.