As a parent, you can cultivate your child's capacity for empathy, the root of giving and activism. In order to learn to be caring, a child has to be nurtured and cared for first. Social awareness continues to grow from what happens at home and what your child observes in adults important to their lives. Modeling compassion and connection is very powerful. Your child will learn from your actions - from the way you relate to the closest family members and friends, including your behavior, body language, and words.
To encourage empathy, caring, compassion and social activism in your home, you can:
- Discuss feelings and consequences of actions. Children who are helped to understand emotions and how their behavior impacts others are more likely to develop a deeper sense of empathy (i.e., "You hurt Michael. Look, he is crying. How might we help him feel better?").
- Don't be afraid to explore negative emotions. Children who are allowed to show anger, sadness, or distress and helped to cope with these emotions tend to become more sympathetic and competent in later social situations.
- Validate caring behavior when you observe it in an effort to help children identify positive courses of action. For example, "I noticed you gave your brother a hug when he fell off his bike. That was a very kind thing to do."
- Provide opportunities for your child to care for someone or something other than themselves - a pet, a plant, or another person. Even if you can't take in a pet, perhaps you can have your child feed a neighbor’s cat. Other ideas are baking cookies for a sick friend, or checking-in regularly on an elderly neighbor.
- Remember that children first have to feel good about themselves to turn those positive feelings towards others. Children who grow up with helping and responsibility modeled are more likely to show those behaviors towards others.