2. Helping Children Understand Others by Using the "Empathy Triad"
We can help children develop a deeper understanding for others if we teach them how to assign empathy triad levels to those with whom they are in conflict. The triad consists of your own happiness, inner strength, and outlook at the given moment of conflict.
Suppose Sarah has a problem with her friend Megan, who's jealous every time Sarah makes a new friend. If Sarah's been taught how to use the empathy triad, here's what she'd do: first, she'd compare Megan's happiness level to her own. Surely, Megan can't be happy at that particular moment if she wigs out at the prospect of sharing her friend! Then she assigns levels of inner strength. Megan, in this particular circumstance, displays an insecurity that proves she has less inner strength than Sarah. Finally, Sarah compares the outlooks for both Megan and herself. Megan is putting herself in the precarious position of losing a friendship. Wasn't that just the thing she was trying to avoid in the first place? And if the friendship collapses, she's going to feel pretty down for a while. Sarah, on the other hand, is in a strong position, because she knows that no one has the right to deny her a new friendship. Understanding her position of strength will give Sarah the confidence that will allow her to feel empathy towards Megan ... to develop an understanding that is free from resentment, frustration, and anger.
3. Helping Children Develop Empathy Through Service
Through bringing relief to someone who is suffering, children can come to understand the depths of that suffering. For instance, they can hand out blankets and hot tea to homeless families on a particularly cold winter's day. Or perhaps they can help a recently widowed neighbor by raking her yard or taking her trashcans out. By performing acts of compassion, whether at school, in the family or in the community, our children can't help but think about the misfortune of those they help. When they do, they're sure to think about how it would feel to be in those other shoes.
4. Helping Children Use Internal Dialogue to Develop Empathy
As parents, we can try to show our children how to use internal dialogue to develop empathy. Some examples follow:
When our children are
faced with people they don't like or are at odds with, encourage them to try
to find something good, however miniscule or trivial, in that person.
- If they still can't see anything worthwhile in that person, ask them to close their eyes and imagine him or her as a cute little newborn baby or as very ill or sad.
- Still stumped? Ask them to see their enemies as children with their own burdens. Everyone has baggage of some sort, even those they despise.
- Ask children to mentally place themselves in their adversaries' shoes.
- When we are angry with someone, we often mistake what motivates them, assuming that person did something to intentionally hurt us. But their behavior usually has less to do with us than we think. We can help our children find the good intentions of the person they're at odds with. With this knowledge, of course, comes understanding. And with understanding comes true empathy.
- Ask children to look back at prior experiences when the tables were turned.
Express aloud your own
empathetic internal dialogue. For instance, "Daddy looks so tired after coming
home from work. I bet he'd feel so much better if someone brought him his
slippers and newspaper." Afterwards, we can help them see what a powerful
effect their empathy had: "Did you see how happy Daddy was that someone took
the time to make him feel comfortable? He sure feels loved."
The purpose of all this inner talk is powerful. It guides our children to understand rather than blame and to use reason to override negative reactions like defensiveness, hurt feelings, and negative judgments.