Empathy involves sensing or feeling other people’s emotions and imagining what they might be thinking. It’s the idea of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Not literally of course!
Imagine you’re going through a hard time. You turn to a friend to talk about it. Your friend says, “I’m so sorry you are going through that. It must be really difficult. I’m here for you.”
Now imagine your friend says, “I get that you’re going through a hard time, but I need you to focus. We have work to do here.”
Which friend would you rather talk to? Empathy is very important. It helps us better connect to the people around us, and it makes us better people to be around.
Babies and toddlers are naturally empathetic. If a calm baby is put into a nursery with several crying babies, she will begin to cry as well. We’ve all seen a toddler go from calm to chaos as he mirrors the emotions of a child nearby. For very young children, emotions are contagious. By the time a child is three years old, this natural empathy begins to subside as she re-focuses on her own needs, goals and perspectives. This is why a young child will yank a toy out of his friend’s hand and look perplexed when his friend begins to cry. The good news is that, with modeling and practice, children easily recover their ability to think about someone else’s feelings and take steps to make his friends feel better.
We’ll be sharing strategies over the next few weeks to strengthen empathy in children. Just remember, we’re raising tomorrow’s adults. What kind of friend do you want to be surrounded by? What kind of employee do you want to hire? (For extra reading, here’s a great article by Fortune about why CEOs are now looking for empathy in their employees.)
Let’s remember to make empathy a priority with kids!