Your Baby & Toddler - - Talking Point -

A par­ent mod­els a lot of who a child be­comes, and with em­pa­thy and kind­ness it is no dif­fer­ent. There are ways that you can guide your child to de­velop the abil­ity to em­pathise. Ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Cara Blackie has some top tips for you to try out:

EM­PATHISE WITH YOUR CHILD Even be­fore your baby is able to speak, you can teach him lessons in em­pa­thy by mir­ror­ing his fa­cial ex­pres­sions. He will feel deeply un­der­stood if you pull a sad face when he’s hurt, or raise your eye­brows and smile when he is happy and hav­ing fun. Don’t for­get to al­ter your tone of voice, as this will also com­mu­ni­cate your em­pa­thy. For ex­am­ple, gen­tly say: “Are you feel­ing scared of that dog? He is a nice dog but he is bark­ing re­ally loud. That can be scary. I will hold you un­til he walks away.”

NEVER MAKE YOUR CHILD FEEL ASHAMED OF WHAT HE’S FEEL­ING Even say­ing some­thing as sim­ple as, “Oh don’t be silly, it’s just a dog!” tells your child that his emo­tions are not ac­cept­able.

GIVE NAMES TO FEEL­INGS De­scribe your own and other peo­ple’s feel­ings by nam­ing them for your child. “Jack is feel­ing sad be­cause you took his toy car. Please give his car back and then you choose another one to play with,” is a good ex­am­ple of this. Nam­ing feel­ings helps your child ex­pe­ri­ence a wide range of feel­ings.

DEAL WITH DIF­FI­CULT EMO­TIONS When you no­tice your child is sad, angry, or dis­ap­pointed, of course you want to try and fix it right away, to pro­tect him from any pain. How­ever, th­ese feel­ings are part of life that chil­dren need to learn to cope with. In fact, la­belling and val­i­dat­ing dif­fi­cult emo­tions ac­tu­ally helps chil­dren learn to han­dle them: “You are re­ally mad that I turned off the TV. I un­der­stand. You love watch­ing your an­i­mal show and it’s okay to feel angry. When you have fin­ished be­ing cross you can choose to help me make a yummy lunch or play in the kitchen while mommy makes our sand­wiches.” This ap­proach also teaches your child to em­pathise with oth­ers who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fi­cult feel­ings.

SHOW EM­PA­THY YOUR­SELF Be­ing a good role model may be the most pow­er­ful way to teach em­pa­thy. When your child sees how you re­spond to him or to oth­ers, he learns what real em­pa­thy is.

USE PRE­TEND PLAY AND READ BOOKS ON FEEL­INGS Talk with your child about feel­ings and em­pa­thy as you play and read. Dis­cuss how you think the char­ac­ters are feel­ing through­out the story, or role play dif­fer­ent emo­tions and re­ac­tions to them in a pre­tend game.

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