By Aisha Givens, LSW – March 6, 2018 –
Have you ever noticed that if someone in your general vicinity yawns it kicks off a series of yawns from all those in the immediate area?
Scientific studies have shown that yawning is a form of empathy. Depending upon your age and how close your relationship is, you may yawn because you empathize with them being tired; you may also smile when you see a friend’s happy smile or cry if you observe a loved one crying.
Empathy can be a biological function, but more than often it is a learned behavior.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another person.
Is it important to teach empathy to our children? The answer is yes. Research shows that empathetic children grow up to become more successful adults when compared to children who lack empathetic skills. Empathy helps us to influence and inspire others as well as better manage personal relationships and social networks.
But how do we impart empathetic skills to our children? It may be easier than you think.
Here are three basic skills you can teach your child this week that would build their capacity towards empathy:
- Reduce or eliminate negative conversations about family, friends or strangers. Children will model your behavior and speak negatively or gossip about others if they hear you doing so. Instead, encourage your child to discuss or wonder about the feelings of people who are vulnerable or whom you may have spoken negatively about in the past.
- Provide an opportunity for your child to practice empathy. Hold a family meeting and provide your child with an opportunity to listen to others’ viewpoints while allowing the child to be heard and acknowledged in a non-judgmental and genuine environment.
- Educate your child about body language. If you notice them with their arms crossed, head down, a smile on their face, slumped shoulders or any other body language or posture, talk about it. i.e. “I’ve noticed you have your head down with your arms crossed. What’s going on?” or “Wow, your eyes are wide open with a huge grin on your face. What’s making you smile today?”
These are few very simple tips for helping your child or teen become more empathetic to others. Set your child up for success. Understanding the emotions and perspectives of others is foundational for building relationships and becoming a well-rounded and complete individual.