Friday, May 23, 2014

Parenting: Growing Empathy

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  

(Ephesians 4:32, ESV)

I just love watching this short clip. You can almost imagine what is going on in the heads of these siblings. They have found themselves face to face with a huge problem and the big brother solves it in a sweet way.

When our children help each other, or help other people, they are practicing a skill called empathy. Empathy is not about feeling sorry for someone – that is sympathy. Empathy is being able to see things from the viewpoint of another person. Theorist have asserted that children cannot do this until they are around five or six years old, but recent research shows children as young as two are beginning to develop this skill.

Empathy is something we want to encourage in our children. We want to do this not only because it means they are growing up to be kind and caring, but because it is a cognitive skill in addition to being an emotional skill. If a child can set aside his own desires to think of others, he is learning to control his attention. If a child can imagine a situation from the perspective of a friend, she is learning how to think abstractly.

Who knew that caring for a sibling could help you learn reading and writing?

God knew!

Model empathy for your children and talk with them about why it is important. Look for their demonstration of empathy and notice it with a smile or a hug. You are planting and watering a seed that God will make grow.

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