Johnny is five years old. He watches his friend Mark being teased by other kids, and then he sees Mark start to cry. As a parent, or caregiver, what do you hope Johnny will do?
For many adults, the expected response would be that Johnny would show empathy. That is, he would be understanding and sensitive to Mark’s feelings, and show a compassionate response to Mark’s distress. But is it realistic to expect that young children have this capacity?
Signs of empathic concern in children have been documented as young as eight to 10 months of age. Demonstrations of more obvious forms of empathy, such as showing concern when someone is crying, can be seen in toddlers. But like all aspects of development, the quantity and quality of this skill development can vary dramatically from one child to the next.
We do know that when children learn to be empathic early in their development, it can lead to much stronger empathy skills later in life as they become adults who treat others with kindness, respect and understanding. Empathic children can become empathic parents, spouses, co-workers and friends.
Parents, teachers and caregivers often ask how they can encourage young children to be more empathic. Here are some tips:
1. Model how to value feelings
First, whenever possible, show warmth and empathy towards children.
Children are watching others to learn appropriate ways of behaving and interacting, and are known to be influenced by the behaviours they see around them. You can be a good role model by acknowledging and valuing others’ feelings, and showing understanding and sympathy when someone is sad, upset, distressed, frustrated or in need of help.
When children show negative emotions, acknowledge how they feel. Provide nurturing until they signal they are OK to move onto something else.
Young children sometimes need help understanding what they are feeling, so label the emotion for them. For example, if they are crying, say: “You seem upset. How can I help?”
Read More Here Three strategies to promote empathy in children