Most parents admit they want their children to be more empathic, compassionate and appreciative. Not only are these virtues cornerstones of Emotional Intelligence, (EQ), but they are also critical for the development of other important skills such as conflict resolution, effective communication and leadership. So, how do parents teach these critical values to their children when we live in a culture of overindulgence? Here are five practical tips parents can use to build empathy and gratitude within their children.
1. Fill their emotional bucket. Research tells us that when a child feels that their parents understand their feelings, they are more likely to open up and share things. Modeling these virtues for your children will not only help them feel loved but will increase their sense of security and their trust with you. Ask yourself, the last time your child was upset, angry or hurt, how did you respond? Did you tell them to brush it off, or did you get defensive? Or did you try to see things from their perspective and empathize with how they were feeling?
2. Try to understand. Whether your child is upset with you or with a friend, take time to understand what they are going through. Try and use the phrase, “Can you help me understand how you are feeling?” The goal is to try and see things from your child’s perspective. When children feel understood, they’re more willing to listen to other people’s point of view.
3. Ask, don’t tell. A common mistake for parents to make when their child is upset is to tell them how they feel instead of asking them. Try and avoid statements like, “I know how you feel.” Instead, ask your child, “How do you feel?” If they can’t explain it, give them some options. For example, you can ask them, “Are you angry, sad or upset?” When children are given options, they are better equipped to articulate how they feel.
4. Switch roles. The next time you have a disagreement with your child, wait until you are both calm and then try to switch places and role-play with one another. This can be a powerful way to help people see things from another person’s perspective. Remember there is no reality - only perception.
5. Make gratitude part of your family culture. When teaching gratitude to your children, remember to say, “Please” and “Thank you” at restaurants, to neighbors, to strangers and to each other. When families say thank you regularly, it creates a culture of appreciation. It makes others feel good, but also helps to build empathy and models desirable behavior in your children. Even children as young as two can be trained to say, “Thank you,” after meals and reading stories.
For more information on empathy and gratitude and her book, Dr. Karyn’s Guide to the Teen Years, visit www.drkaryn.com.
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