One of the most important skills we can teach our kids is empathy. Empathy is the ability to see and value what another person is feeling or experiencing. When we see someone in pain and feel that response in our own gut, that’s empathy. When we see someone crying tears of joy at an important reunion and notice ourselves choking up, that’s empathy. When we see someone struggling with a problem and feel an emotional pull to help, that’s empathy. It’s a core skill for what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior – the actions that are involved in building close relationships, maintaining friendships, and developing strong communities. It appears to be the central reality necessary for developing a conscience, as well. Read more >
Raising empathetic kids might seem like a challenging task, but kids are empathetic by nature! Here’s a little story that illustrates this idea: When we lived in Chicago and my kids were all quite young, my two-year-old son accidentally locked himself in the bathroom. He could not understand our directions through the door about how to turn the latch and got more and more upset. His sisters (then about 4, 6, and 8), as they became aware of the situation, went through a whole gamut of emotions in response. They panicked and screamed, worrying he might never get out. They began to cry (loudly, I must say) in their concern for him. And they began to run about the house trying to figure out what to do – and giving me and mom many pieces of advice about how to rescue him.
Kids are empathetic. They are affected by other people’s feelings and are driven to respond. Learning how to support the development of those feelings in healthy directions is another of the tasks of parenting. And there’s plenty of research to support this idea.
Emotional intelligence has become an increasingly popular idea over the last twenty years. While “IQ” (intelligence quotient) attempts to describe our thinking and reasoning abilities, “EQ” (emotional intelligence quotient) attempts to describe our ability to work with our own and others’ emotions. The importance of these skills for personal, relationship and even work success has become increasingly recognized in the psychological community, and researchers and therapists alike are developing ways of helping folks learn and make use of these skills.
Technically, “emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to perceive and express emotion accurately and adaptively, the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge, the ability to use feelings to facilitate thought, and the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and in others” (Salovey & Pizarro, 2002).
One of the most important of the emotional intelligence skills is empathy. When we instinctively tell our kids to “think about how what you did made your sister feel,” we are training our kids in empathy and inviting them to recognize the importance of taking others’ feelings into account. So, what are some ways to help support our kids’ development of empathy, and the ability to respond to others in constructive ways? Here are a few points to consider:
Interested in learning more about E.Q.? Here are some resources for further investigation: