Use everyday opportunities to develop your child's empathy!

Phil McInnes

Empathy is a fundamental requirement in your child's prosocial capability set. The good news is that it can be coached and every day events provide plenty of opportunity to do this.

Emotion is about how we feel and how we feel determines to a large degree how we act and what we remember. Emotions and memory are the domain of the limbic system in our brain and are therefore closely associated. The best way to teach our kids prosocial skills is to make them feel good about doing the right thing. However, often we inadvertently ignore good intent or to make kids feel like their character is flawed.

Let's look at scenarios many of us have faced, to examine how we might use these as emotional coaching opportunities.

You have 2 kids, Doug and Katy, a pre-schooler and a toddler respectively. 

In scenario 1, you hear Katy screaming. You rush through to see that she is on the floor and Doug is going over to help. She has been knocked over by your overly boisterous dog. You are busy, so you just pick up Katy and comfort her, inadvertently ignoring Doug.

In scenario 2, you hear Katy screaming. You rush through to find that Doug, whilst riding his scooter, has knocked Katy over. You are busy. You pick Katy up to comfort her, shout at Doug "you are careless, you have hurt your sister, apologize to her immediately!". Doug gives a defiant look and doesn't, so you send him off to his room.

In both instances you have missed a powerful, in the moment, opportunity to coach empathy. Imagine if you had taken the few minutes it required to do things differently.

In scenario 1, Doug was on his way to see what was wrong with Katy. If you had taken a moment to acknowledge his sympathy for Katy's plight and to involve him in making Katy feel better, you would made him feel good about his actions of helping someone in need. You have taken the moment to coach empathy, by making him feel good about helping his sister.

In scenario 2, while you are comforting Katy, you engage with Doug. You call his attention to the fact that his actions have hurt Katy and engage him to ask how to make her feel better. You need to be sensitive to not make him feel like a bad person, rather that he has made a mistake that has hurt his sister, and that it can be corrected. This action is more likely to encourage remorse for what he has done and to feel good about fixing it.

Opportunities to coach your kids arise all day every day. It is the intent of our blogs and our self-mastery program to help your kids to become fulfilled adults who are masters of their own destiny.

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