No matter how brilliant, famous or educated you are “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” (John Maxwell). God knows that we need to grow and get better, and at the same time, He accepts us as we are.
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him, for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14
The beauty of empathy is that it opens a childs heart to compassion. And in our self-focused, independent and materialistic society, it’s ever more urgent that we be intentional with teaching our children good values, Godly values. Values that contrast what society teaches – but that affirm the love of God:
- the care and welfare of the family
- honoring the covenant of marriage
- caring for the elderly
- serving with humility
- working hard with diligence, perseverance and honesty
- being faithful
- personal responsibility
- spiritual growth
There is no secret technique, video or 12-step formula that you can implement to teach your child empathy. Children learn to appreciate other people’s feelings and needs over time as they see this demonstrated by you, Mom and Dad.
Your child gradually moves from his egocentric “always thinking about me” perspective to one in which he not only cares about the other person, but can feel and understand the other person’s point of view. And you can help stretch that growth. You’re child will learn how to be loving and empathic when they see and experience it. While you are out, you can look for meaningful ways to show empathy:
- Someone is in a rush at the grocery store and you say “Hey, why don’t you go ahead of me.”
- You’re in rush hour traffic and you notice a car with it’s blinker has been trying to get over, but no one is letting them through. You slow down just enough and motion for them into your lane.
One of the best experiences that you can expose your child to is through volunteering. Regular involvement in serving at the local retirement home, community center, or church can help children learn that, like the rest of us, they matter and they can make a positive contribution. When your child sees the faces of others “light up” you can talk about this later with your child and discuss how it made your child feel to see how they responded.
You’d be surprised at how much joy a few hours can bring every few weeks when you visit the elderly… and you’ll be tickled pink at some of the things you’ll learn and people you might meet (*wink*)!
Let your child know that serving others is one of your family values. Emphasize that you expect your child to help, and encourage their caring efforts. This is what God commands:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. James 1:27
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17
“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:36
Pointing out the facial expressions, posture and mannerisms of people in different emotional states as well as their predicaments is beneficial: it helps your child tune into other people’s feelings. Once your child understands how the other person feels (she looks sad), he’ll be more likely to not only feel for that child but also be activated to do something to help.
- Watch a television show without the sound and predict how the characters are feeling. It helps the child understand that emotion identification is comprised of facial expressions and body language.
One of the most difficult feelings in life is the feeling of powerlessness. Helplessness. We often experience it in situations where something or someone outside of our control affects our well-being. We begin to personalize the situation, thinking it is hopeless. However the great thing about the Bible and it’s message is that even when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we are never powerless victims.
“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10″
This is the biggest takeaway for cultivating a heart of empathy because ultimately, I’m talking about character. The more you teach your children to be empathic and loving, the deeper their capacity will be to grow up and love like Jesus. The sooner you plant the seeds, the earlier the harvest will bloom.
The ultimate purpose that all of us, men and women, is to grow and transform into the image of Christ. The more our society moves away from God, the stronger we must become, the brighter we must shine, and the more we must encourage one another.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8 EsV
May God richly bless you as you are the salt and light of the world!
Christy Demetriades, Ph.D.