How To Get Real With Your Kids
As parents we often try to protect our kids from bad feelings, bad news, and poor choices and actions of others. But if we protect our children too much, we miss the chance to actually teach them how to navigate our complicated world. We are in fact, creating an older person who will shy away from knowing how to identify with another’s pain. We are creating the person who will not be able to understand that others have feelings separate from their own.
Young children are extremely open and impressionable. Teaching empathy and understanding can start when children are very young through simple role playing. Providing a good example is an easy way to be an effective teacher within your own family unit, and by showing empathy toward others you will help your child develop these skills over time.
Everyday opportunities are generally the best way to teach empathy. By pointing out situations that call for empathy, parents can generate sympathetic responses in their children and help them learn to make the connections between what they see and how that action might make another person feel.
How do you get started? Use real life examples - talk about a child you know who has suffered a loss such as the death of a grandparent or who might have divorcing parents, an illness or injury. You can also teach empathy as you watch TV or read books together – use that time to talk with your child about how another person might feel.
You might want to shield your child from the negativity in the world, but don’t brush aside important topics, just speak to them at their level of understanding. You can ask questions like,
“What do you think it would feel like to lose all your things in a fire in your house?’,
“How do you think it would feel to come to a new school and not speak English?”
“How do you think your friend feels when you say you don’t want to play with him/her?”
With young children, these themes may come up when they are playing. Don’t resist the chance to be on the floor with your kids, playing along and watching the connections happen! Know that this can be a defining moment in their learning!