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8 Effective Ways To Teach Your Children Empathy

8 Effective Ways To Teach Your Children Empathy

Your three year-old may have a tendency to say things like, “I hate my teacher! I never want to go to school again”, without even realizing that the teacher is within earshot. Empathy is a critical social skill that can both be developed naturally and nurtured within a child.

Scientists allege that EQ (emotional intelligence) is equally, if not more important, than IQ (intelligence quotient) in determining success in life.The ability to deal with one’s own and other’s emotions also accounts for emotional intelligence. Some researchers have gone so far as to claim that emotional intelligence plays a major role in not only the satisfaction with your social and personal life, but also the aspects of your academic and career life.

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child states, “If we really want to build a strong platform for healthy development and effective learning in the early childhood years … then we must pay as much attention to children‘s emotional wellbeing and social capacities as we do to their cognitive abilities and academic skills”. Also, a study conducted by researchers from the Curtin University of Technology (based on the Canadian-developed “Roots of Empathy” program) claims that “pro-social behavior of the children in the Roots of Empathy classes increased while bullying and aggression decreased.”

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How do we engrain this vital trait in our little ones? Here are some science-backed tips on how it can be done.

1) Get them a Pet

According to a statement from the Washington Post, a variety of research supports the idea of empathy scores increasing due to an attachment to a pet. A pet can teach a child how to love and care for sensitive creatures who are dependent on other social beings. Having a pet teaches a child to be self-less, thereby increasing the ability to feel for others. To master empathy, a child also needs to be able to read and recognize non-verbal cues which are the only ways pets communicate to us.

2) Encourage them to Read Literary Fiction

While commercial or genre-based fiction have a clear plot and a story that appeals to a wide audience, literary fiction focuses on each individual character, their development in the story, and their reactions to what happens in the story. According to a study by researchers at The New School in New York, literary fiction improves a reader’s capacity to understand what others are feeling. Kidd, a researcher, says: “Often those characters’ minds are depicted vaguely, without many details, and we’re forced to fill in the gaps to understand their intentions and motivations”. The reader is left to predict the inner monologues of characters often throughout the book.

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This carries over to the real world and enables readers to understand a person’s psyche and the feelings of those who are different from us.

3) Praise Empathetic Behavior

Every time your kid expresses kindness and generosity towards another person, reward the act. They may be giving a sufferer a shoulder, offering advice or help with an essay, or simply sharing their favorite stationary item. Let them know that you thought the gesture was highly courteous. Positive reinforcement will work best in this situation and increase the likelihood that the behavior will repeat. Don’t let the “you can have mine if you like” and simple acts of kindness go unrewarded.

4) Be the Empathetic Role Model

One of the best ways to teach your children to be empathetic and socially competent is by modeling the behavior yourself. Psychologists have long known the fact that children learn by imitating adults. Listen to what your child has to say, show them how to be selfless, and pay careful attention to their emotional needs. When your children notice how you react to their emotional outbursts, they will internalize the behavior and make an effort to respond to others in the same manner.

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5) Be Physically Affectionate

Given enough hugs, cuddles, and kisses, a child can learn how to be the perfect person. This may sound far-fetched, but it really isn’t. Numerous studies have shown how physical affection improves our moods, reduces depression and anxiety, and increases friendship and trust. With these incredibly positive feelings bouncing around in our system, we tend to be more receptive to another’s emotions rather than focusing on ourselves.

6) Give them a Set of Responsibilities

Teaching your child “responsibility” is not something you do only to groom them into becoming well-rounded adults. Doing chores and learning responsibility also teaches children to care for others and think about “needs” other than their own.

7) Teach them Basic Rules of Politeness

Telling your child to say “please” before they ask someone to pass a dish on the table is just as good as telling your child to be polite to others — or even better because you are being specific. Words such as “Thank you”, “I’m sorry”, “Please”, and “It’s okay” should be an automatic response. Teach them to be patient and wait for others before taking their turn. Let them know when they are being impolite and instruct them how to respond to the situation correctly after apologizing. Sometimes, it’s the subtleties that make all of the difference.

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8) Teach Them to Think Before they Respond

One of the important life lessons you can teach your child is to think before they respond. This is also crucial to social competence and responding with empathy. Even if their first thought is not in line with the best or “most empathetic” response, they will give their words and actions a second thought before making them known. This increases the likelihood that the response will be considerate one.

Featured photo credit: Empathetic Kid via flickr.com

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Sadie Douse

Sadie is an executive academic consultant at CorpEssay. She's also a passionate writer who shares lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on August 12, 2020

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

When Should You Trust Your Gut and How?

Learning how to trust your gut, otherwise known as your intuition, can keep you safe. Your gut can guide you and help you build your confidence and resilience. My own gut instinct has saved me on more than one occasion. It has also guided me into making sound career choices and other exciting, big decisions. I’m also aware of the times when I’ve gone against my instincts and really regretted it later, wondering why I didn’t tune in to that valuable internal voice that we all have within us.

In this article, we’re going to explore why and how you should listen to your gut, as well as some concrete tips on how to make sure you’re making the most out of your gut instincts.

How to Listen to Your Gut

The key when making any big decision is to always take a minute to listen well to yourself and your inner compass. If you hear your actual voice saying yes while inside you’re silently screaming no, my advice is to ask for some time to think, or simply take a breath and pause before the yes or no escapes your mouth.

Use that moment to breathe, check in with yourself, and give the answer that feels congruent with who you are and what you want, not the one that always involves following the herd. Trusting your gut means having the courage to not simply go with the majority. It can be about holding your own. Here’s how to hone that skill for yourself and reap the rewards.

1. Tune Into Your Body

Your body gives you clues when you’re faced with a big decision. There are many visible and obvious symptoms that we feel in uncomfortable situations. Our body’s reaction is often something that we might try to hide, for example, blushing, being lost for words, or shaking. There are things we might do to try and hide that physical reaction, whether it’s wearing makeup, having a glass of wine or coffee to perk us up a bit, or learning to control our nerves.

However, paying attention to your body when you experience these feelings of anxiety can teach you so much and help you to make sound choices. Some people will experience an actual “gut” feeling of stomach ache or indigestion in an uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself what’s really going on here, and explore what is happening behind your body’s response to the situation. What can your reaction or instinct teach you? Understanding that can be a clue and can help you either learn something about yourself, the situation, or other people. The answers are often within us.

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Sometimes we’ll get this “something’s not right here” feeling and cannot quite put our finger on it or explain it. That can still be incredibly useful and really guide us away from danger, even if we don’t know the reason.

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell also argues this, making the point that sometimes our subconscious is better at processing the answer we need, and that we don’t necessarily need to take time to collect hours and hours of information to come to a reliable conclusion[1].

2. Ensure Your Head Is Clear Before Making a Decision

Energy, sleep, and good nutrition are so vital to nourishing our minds, as well as our bodies. There are times when your instinct could lead you astray, and one of these is when you are hungry, “hangry” (angry because you’re hungry!), tired, or anxious. If this is the case–and it may sound obvious–do consider sleeping or eating on it before making an important choice.

There is, in fact, a connection between our gut and our brain[2], which is where terms like “butterflies in the stomach” and “gut-wrenching” originate from. Stress and emotions can cause physical feelings, and ignoring them might do more harm than good.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Think and Feel

Listening to your gut and really paying attention to it might involve standing up and being counted, calling something out, or taking a stand. As someone who works for myself, I’ve become used to following the less-travelled road, and that’s given me the chance to strike out on my own in other ways, too.

As they tell you in the planes, “put your own oxygen mask on first,” and part of that self-reliance is knowing what you really want and like and what is safe and good for you, including what resonates with your personal and business values. Making good decisions with this in mind means making choices that do not go against your own beliefs, even when it may mean taking a stand. This is part of trusting yourself and trusting your instincts.

This does not always mean taking the “safe” option, although keeping ourselves safe is an important part of the process. This is how we learn and grow, by following our own inner compass. When you do take risks, go outside of your comfort zone, or choose the less popular option, spending some time researching the facts can stand us in good stead, too.

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4. Do Your Research If Something Feels Off

As well as listening to our instincts, we can also back up the evidence for our chosen course of action before taking the leap. I had a gut feeling about the need for a learning and development network when I noticed my clients getting stuck with the same problems. I set up and now run such a network, but instead of simply going for it, without evidence, I followed up on my instinct with research.

Having confidence in your gut instinct through these kinds of tests can help to minimize your risks, as well as spur you on. It will encourage you to trust your gut again in the future and trust that you are an expert with foresight and experience. You are!

5. Challenge Your Assumptions

When you look at the assumptions your making, this could be the clue to mistakes you are making.

In order to check that our instincts are wise, we need to ask ourselves what blanks we might be filling in, either consciously or unconsciously. This is true not just when it comes to our own decision-making. It’s also true when we are listening to someone explain a problem or situation, and we’re about to jump in and give some advice. If we can learn to be aware of our own assumptions, we can become better listeners and better decision makers, too.

A useful tool to become more aware of your assumptions before making a final decision is simply to ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about this situation or person?”

6. Educate Yourself on Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is something we all have, and it can trip us up big time!

There is a vital caveat to bear in mind when wondering about whether you can trust your gut and the feelings your body gives you, and that’s having an awareness of your unconscious bias. Understanding your own bias–which is hard to do because it literally does happen in our subconscious–can help you to make stronger, better, decisions instead of re-confirming your view of the world over and over again.

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Bias exists, and it’s part of the human condition. All of us have it, and it colors our decisions and can impact on our performance without us realizing.

Unconscious bias happens at a subconscious level in our brains. Our subconscious brain processes information so much faster than our conscious brain. Quick decisions we make in our subconscious are based on both our societal conditioning and how our families raised us.

Our brains process hundreds of thousands of pieces of information daily. We unconsciously categorize and format that information into patterns that feel familiar to us. Aspects such as gender, disability, class, sexuality, body shape and size, ethnicity, and what someone does for a job can all quickly influence decisions we make about people and the relationships we choose to form. Our unconscious bias can be very subtle and go unnoticed..

We naturally tend to gravitate towards people similar to ourselves, favoring people who we see as belonging to the same “group” as us. Being able to make a quick decision about whether someone is part of your group and distinguish friend from foe was what helped early humans to survive. Conversely, we don’t automatically favor people who we don’t immediately relate to or easily connect with.

The downside of that human instinct to seek out similar people is the potential for prejudice, which seems to be hard-wired into human cognition, no matter how open-minded we believe ourselves to be. And these stereotypes we create can be wrong. If we only spend our time with and employ people similar to ourselves, it can create prejudices, as well as stifle fresh thinking and innovation.

We may feel more natural or comfortable working with other people who share our own background and/or opinions than collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like us. However, diversity is not just morally right; having a mix of different people and perspectives that can be genuinely heard is also a valuable way to counter groupthink. Diversity stretches us to think more critically and creatively.

7. Trust Yourself

It is possible to learn how to truly trust yourself[3]. Like any talent or skill, practicing trusting your gut is the best way to get really good at it. When people talk about having great intuition or being good decision-makers, it’s because they’ve worked at honing those skills, made mistakes, learned from them, and tried again.

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Looking back at decisions you’ve made, what you did, what the outcome was, and what you’ve learned can help you become a stronger decision maker and develop solid self-trust and resilience. Making a mistake does not mean you are not great at decision-making; it’s a chance to grow and learn, and the only mistake is to ignore the lesson in that experience.

If you are in the habit of asking others for their input, then the trick here is to choose your inner circle wisely. Having a sounding board of people who have your best interests at heart is a valuable asset, and, combined with your own excellent instincts, can make you a champion decision maker.

The Bottom Line

The above tips are all actionable and easy to start immediately. It’s simply about switching your thinking around, slowing down, and taking great care of this amazing machine that is your body and mind!

Learning how to trust your gut is one of the most fundamental ways to make decisions that will help you lead the life you want and need. Tune into what your body is telling you and start making good decisions today.

More Tips on How to Trust Your Gut

Featured photo credit: Acy Varlan via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Science of People: Learn to Trust Your Gut Instincts: The Science Behind Thin-slicing
[2] Harvard Health Publishing: The gut-brain connection
[3] Psych Central: 3 Ways to Develop Self-Trust

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