Perhaps you never gave it much thought, but empathy is a huge part of being a person of integrity. The ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, to see and feel things from their perspective allows you to make better choices. When you can understand what it is like to be lied to, stolen from, made fun of… you are less likely to do those things to other people. That said empathy is not a trait that people are born with. Babies enter this world with just the capacity to be empathetic, but it is parents who must help them develop the actual trait.
The number one way that children learn empathy is when they are treated with empathy. When we become empathetic parents we are showing our children that we respect them, that we are willing to see things from their side, that we value their thoughts and accept them for who they are. Basically when we walk a mile in our children’s shoes we are modeling integrity, compassion, and of course empathy.
Being an empathetic parent is not always easy. Children by nature can push our buttons. But studies show that parents who are more empathetic tend to have better relationships with their children filled with honest open communication. They also tend to be less stressed! Yes you read correctly. Empathetic parents tend to be less stressed because their children are better able to manage their own difficult emotions, can soothe themselves and get angry less often.
It’s easy to be empathetic when your child is feeling hurt, sad or afraid… but what about all those other times… especially when they are being testing and rude? This is when being empathetic is even more important. The first thing we need to do is listen, listen, and um yeah… listen. Our job is to help them to feel understood. We must learn to not take their anger or frustration personally. We need to remain calm, flexible and willing to adjust our language, thoughts, and actions. This does not mean that we are condoning negative behavior; instead we are empathizing and then affirming our belief that they will do the right thing.
When we parent our children with empathy, it puts us and our children on the same side of any problem. When we show empathy, it sends the message to our children that they are safe to make mistakes and encourages them to take responsibility when they do. When we show empathy it helps our children to think of others, to be more accepting of difference, to appreciate honesty and most of all to have the self-confidence to do the right thing even when it’s not the most popular choice. In other words, empathetic parenting helps us to raise children of integrity!
Integrity is about being true to yourself, your values and your word. Yet it is easier to ignore the situation that my come up – even if it impacts our values. One step in standing up for our values and helping others is being able to understand the other persons point of view. The word for that is EMPATHY.
As adults we know that empathy is a key to our ability to have good social interactions with others. That may include siblings, parents, work or school mates or even someone that we have a fleeting interaction with on the street. How do we help to develop empathy in ourselves or our children?
Here are three questions you might ask yourself or discuss with your children that will help us to understand the other persons point of view.
What are they feeling right now?
How are they viewing the situation
What is really important to them right now?
If you can look deeply into yourself to see if you can even begin to imagine the answers to those 3 questions you are on the road to understanding the other person’s point of view. You are developing EMPATHY. The question that is left is “What will you do with that information?” Will you ignore it? Will you use it to take compassionate action – in line with your values?
While we have spent a considerable amount of time discussing the needs we individually have to focus on our goals, to use focus to get our work done, and learning how to put distractions aside – today I would like to think about the need to focus on others. It is important that we focus on ourselves but there is also a need to consider the feelings, needs and requirements that others have.
Can you imagine being a parent that put their interests first, even before their children? Or to work for a employer who was not able to appreciate the needs of an employee who had a family member who was sick? Understanding that we are all inter -related, that my actions affect others in my circle of influence, even affecting those that we may never meet or know that we are affecting.
Here is an example. If I own a business that pollutes the water, I will be effecting many others down stream of my business. On a more personal note, there are studies that say that if every American chose to skip eating meat one time per week, there would be enough grain to feed the entire world. If we focused on others by being aware that they may have circumstances or events taking place in their life that we do not know about, may change the way we react to them if they were short with us in conversation.
Focus on others is really just another way of say, . When a new student comes into your classroom or our school – ask yourself, “What would I want others to do to make me feel more wanted or valued? How can I make this person feel more welcomed?” If you are a child that sees someone being picked on, “What would help make them feel better, right at this moment and can I provide this for them?”
One way that empathy is built in a person is by more awareness of oneself. The better you understand yourself and your emotions, the better you will be able to appreciate and relate to the feelings of others. An important step in developing empathy is learning to listen with empathy. Listening is not just hearing. Rather listening with empathy requires that the way we filter the message may need to be ‘turned off’ while we work on understanding how others feel.
There are five ways that we filter messages that influence what we hear.
At the start of most years we sit down and create a list of goals, changes, and things that we want to make or do. Many of them are soon forgotten or at the very least overwhelmed by day to day living. How can we make this year different? What is a goal that we have that if we changed one little thing that we may stick to and not forget soon after the start of the year?
Each month we define and discuss a word of character development and a life skill with all of our students.
This month the word is Empathy and will be defined this way.
Young students: Empathy means, “I can imagine how you feel.”
Older students: Empathy means: Reading, understanding and responding to other people’s feelings.
The worksheets for our students can be found on our member site: Balanced Life Skills Students Would you like to be a member of Balanced Life Skills? Become a member to open up conversations on the important things in life for our children.
If you would like to see how we will talk about Empathy with our students please follow our discussions here during the month of January or come in and TRY A CLASS.