Kids can learn how to be empathetic with the right guidance from adults. And that guidance is key. Here are some tips to help you to help them develop that important trait of empathy:
Listen, listen, listen. Although your child is relating to you an event that can be anything from a 3-year old's garbled recount of what just happened on a favorite cartoon, to a 13-year old's recount of the drama that unfolded with a friend at school, this event is IMPORTANT to them. Give it the respect they think it deserves. Look them in the eyes while they speak, listen to each word, and give the feedback they are looking for (they can detect passive "uh-huh" remarks as opposed to interested ones). By treating their input with respect, you are teaching them by example. A great step to learning empathy.
Show empathy toward living creatures, big and small. Whether it is a bug, a fish, a dog or another human being, how you react to it teaches your child how to react to it. If you show fear of a bug, your child will learn to fear the bug. Use kind words, such as, "Cute bug, let's put him outside where he will be happy," (even if you hate bugs). Or, "It's ok that this person is different, it's ok to be different." Speaking kindly and showing empathy to other living creatures creates a wonderful outlook of others in the child's mind.
Try not to use the words "No", "Don't" and "Stop" in front of a command. If your child is displaying unwanted behavior, such as, throwing objects wildly, shouting at another person, or using negative language to describe another, try to give your child another way to handle the behavior. Instead of telling your child "Don't throw", maybe say, "we can throw balls outside." Instead of saying "Stop shouting at [whomever]", say. "let's use our nice words to tell [whomever] how you feel". Or instead of saying "No bad language", ask your child why they need to describe the person that way, explain why the person may be the way they are, and why we do not want to use that type of language to describe people. It may take some practice on your child's part, but they are absorbing your reasoning over time.
These are only a few tips, but there are many more which will be posted soon. In this time when we read and hear news with so much turmoil erupting around the world, it is up to us as parents, caregivers and teachers to provide our kids with the right tools to counter the negativity around us. The more sensitive of a child we raise, the more sensitive our children will be to those around us.