Last week, we completed our series on mindfulness practices for all ages. This week, our team of clinicians focuses on the power of EMPATHY and how that plays into making connections.
Why is it important to not only teach but model empathy and kindness in deed AND in our words?
Kasey Cain, Resident in Counseling – Merrian Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”
Empathy is an essential life skill because we do not live in isolation. Each day brings about situations that necessitate sharing space and/or interacting with other people. In order to do this successfully, it is important to understand someone else’s perspective. In her book, Mind In the Making: The 7 Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, Ellen Galinsky discusses the importance of focus and self control, perspective taking, communication, making connections, critical thinking, taking on challenges, and self-directed, engaged learning. These skills build upon one another and are interconnected. Empathy encompasses the first five skills.
So, if it is extremely complex and necessary, how can you support your child in building empathy? First, it is important to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. My favorite explanation is Brene Brown’s on Empathy. Then, with a foundational understanding of the concept you can model perspective taking for your children, talk about feelings – all feelings (even the uncomfortable ones), acknowledge all feelings even if they differ from yours, and encourage your child to be a “Social Detective” by using their “eyes, ears, and brains to figure out what others are planning to do next or are presently doing and what they mean by their words and actions” and how they are feeling.
Amanda Beyland, LCSW – Empathy allows us to understand and be sensitive to the feelings of another while enabling us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see things through the eyes of someone else.
Empathy can be shown through compassion, understanding, and valuing others. Kids are always watching and learning from their parents, which is why it’s important to be empathetic, show compassion and kindness for others to set an example that can be learned from. Show children empathy by being understanding when someone else makes a mistake, treating others kindness, and celebrating differences.
In order for children to be able to understand the emotions of others they must first be able to recognize their own emotions. We can help children to understand their feelings, or others’, by pointing out and talking about them even if it means sharing how certain things make you feel.
Dominique Adkins, Ed.d, LPC, NCC, ACS – In its simplest terms empathy is the ability to understate, share, and experience the feelings of another. Berkeley University (2018) shared that empathy can be broken down into two categories; affective and cognitive.
Affective empathy is the sensations and feelings one gets in response to others’ emotions. Cognitive empathy or perspective taking is the ability to identify, understand, and communicate the emotions of another person while staying out of judgment (the hard part).
Empathy fuels connection because it is a sacred space where you can feel with people. It is important to model and teach empathy because it is the only way to have meaningful and impactful relationships.
When challenging situations with your teen arise, remember this also as an opportunity to model empathy. While you may not agree with the decision he/she made you can understand the pain, stress, or anxiety that can be associated with making any difficult decision. Coming from an empathetic place can help increase your teen’s understanding of his/her feelings while fueling connection.
Stay tuned for more information on empathy and kindness this month. Until next week, Be Wise!
Reference: Berkeley University (2018). Empathy Defined. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition