5. Helping Children Develop Empathy Through Role Play
Whenever children have a hard time empathizing with someone, role-play can perform miracles.
6. Using "I Messages" to Teach Empathy
When we use "I messages," we send a loud and clear signal: "Understand how I'm feeling right now, please!" For instance, a remark like, "I get frustrated when someone walks on my freshly mopped floor with muddy shoes," jumpstarts the cascade of internal dialogue that makes our children consider what we are going through and what they should do to make things better.
7. Modeling Empathy
Voicing our own internal dialogue is an excellent way of modeling empathy for our children. Suppose Aunt Sue has the flu. You might talk out loud to yourself to show your children how you empathize with her situation, what you wish to do about it, and why. "That checker at the grocery store was so short with me today. She's usually so nice! I wonder if anything's wrong. I'll bet money her feet are killing her. I think I'll give her one of the magnolia blossoms from our garden."
8. Teaching Children Empathy by Not Criticizing the Unfortunate
I don't know if it's cultural or instinctive, but humans commonly pick on the weak or hurt. It might be some strange looking guy in the crowd, an elderly driver going 25 miles per hour on the freeway, someone stuttering during an interview on the six o'clock news, or an obese friend. Criticizing people with imperfections sends our children a message that the shortcomings of others are intentional and exclusive to everyone else but us. They learn to criticize others for not correcting those flaws, even when the flaws can't be changed, and to react negatively to imperfect people rather than respond with empathy and understanding.
Empathy is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, because it helps them see the good in those around them. If we work hard to raise empathetic children, they'll develop a sense of inner strength that will protect them against outside influences beckoning them away from the proper choices.