Empathy is the ability to read another person’s emotions. It is the ability to identify with and feel for the other person by trying to put yourself in his or her shoes so as to be able to understand what he is feeling or going through emotionally.
Ravi had failed his XII Board exams. He was feeling very anxious that his parents would be very upset and vent out their anger on him. He was scared of facing them but his parents were intelligent enough to empathise with him.
They understood how unhappy he was feeling. They were kind and supported him emotionally in this hour of his anguish and told him not to worry but study hard for the supplementary exam ahead. This empowered Ravi who studied with renewed vigour. Not only did he pass his next exam with flying colours but he felt more confident with support from his parents.
Empathy is a very powerful tool for children to learn. It empowers them and makes them stronger emotionally. It has a magical quality which can make people show kindness and stop people from being cruel or harming others. Children are born with a huge reservoir of happiness and in-built capacity for empathy, but it has to be nurtured and cared for continuously and relentlessly otherwise it fades away. Unfortunately this is exactly what is happening. Many children just do not know the meaning or the art of practicing empathy, because no one has ever explained it or discussed it with them. It is a critical life skill and should be taught to children right from an early age. To be able to understand what your friend is feeling after a fight or to feel the hurt your parents are going through after you have behaved rudely with them, or to feel the emotions of a sick relative, are emotional skills which children are grossly lacking these days. In today’s world of technology, children are so much engrossed in the ‘I, Me or Mine’ phenomenon, that they tend show traits of narcissism in their behaviour.
Technology gadgets have taken up most of their time and they have become recluses and loners lost in the world of visual fantasy of social media and their gadgets. They hardly find time or want to play or share their game or feelings with their friends. Outdoor games are gradually becoming extinct for the children today, as children have no time or interest or energy left for them.
A University of Michigan study of nearly 14,000 college students found that students today have about 40 per cent less empathy than college kids had in the 1980s and 1990s. Children today have no idea of how to practice empathy and will surely be less happy as adults as a result. Parents need to understand this and need to practice and teach empathy to their children. Schools should also take initiatives to include empathy training workshops in their curriculum where children can freely discuss the importance of understanding others emotions. Only then will we be able to make our children more caring, compassionate and empathetic.
Parenting is the most challenging task to master these days. It was a duty so easy and natural for parents, some time back, but today it has become the most formidable task for them. Parents are a confused lot these days.
They complain that they are not able to understand their children and vice versa. ‘Empathy’ is an alien word for most of them too. Both parents are working parents these days trying to do their best to rear up their children with all materialistic comforts. As a result parents too are under a lot of stress. They have no time for empathy or compassion in their hectic schedule themselves. Then how do we expect such parents to teach such important skills to their kids?
It is a wake-up call for all of us. Parents should learn how to be de-stressed and should adopt ‘good, happy parenting skills’ which include empathy and compassion. The children are fast learners and will immediately copy or model their parents behaviour. They will immediately pick up such skills from their parents and involve empathy and compassion in their day to day behaviour, once they see their elders do it.
The simple ways to raise an empathetic kid involve talking and discusing different feelings we have. Be a coach who discusses and practices empathy and kindness, try to bring out the best in your child emotionally by modelling that behaviour yourself. Do, share and instill kind deeds, by making ‘teamwork and caring’ a priority. Make them understand that kindness matters the most. Children will follow what you do instantly. Teach them to have a thought of kindness for others even if it is inconvenient for them. If they are unkind—point it out to them and tell them that it will not be accepted in the family.
Use “earshot praise”. Let your kids overhear (without them thinking they’re supposed to) you describing those qualities to others. “I’m so proud of how kind my child is because…”. Use the kindness habit. Get kids in the habit of being kind. “Everyday you leave this house I expect you to say or do at least two kind things to someone else.” Develop a caring mindset — help your child see himself as kindhearted by praising the times he is kind. Model kindness – if you want a caring child, model the behaviours you want your child to adopt. Do five kind acts a day. One study found that kids who did five kind acts in one day (like writing a thank-you to a teacher, doing someone’s chores, working at a shelter) – instead of spreading their acts over a week – gained the biggest happiness boost at the end of a six-week study period. So encourage kids to get on to a kindness mode.
Make kindness a regular happening. Set an empty box by your door for kids to put gently used toys, books, and games. When filled, deliver it together to a shelter or less-fortunate family. Get kids to reflect on kindness. Instead of always asking, “What did you learn today?” Try: “What’s something kind you did? Or “What’s something nice that someone did for you?” Imagine how the person feels. To help your child identify with the feelings of others, have him imagine how the other person feels about a specific circumstance. Share good news — cut out news stories about kids who are doing caring deeds and share them with your child and friends to inspire their hearts to do the same. Reduce your MEs and increase your WEs. For instance: What should we do?” “Which would be better for us?” “Let’s take a ‘We’ vote, to do what we choose.” Praise when deserved, but focus on your child’s “inside-out” qualities: their kindness, respect, courage so that they see themselves as a caring person. Have family movie nights. Films are important means to help our children understand other worlds and other views, to be more open to differences and cultivate new perspectives. Let children read books of worth and value. Insist that kids read! Not only does reading literary fiction boost a kids academic performance, but it also boosts their empathy. Let the kids see different shades of life. Depending on your child’s age you might visit a nursing home, homeless shelter, animal shelter, or orphanages.
The more kids experience different perspectives, the more likely they can empathize with others who have different means and living styles. You should ask them “How would you feel?” if some other kid had behaved the same way with them—as they had behaved with the other kids and which you had disapproved. How would you feel if someone said that to you or hit you?” Discuss real events with your children. You can discuss the TV or news paper news with them eg “The fire or the storm destroyed their homes. What do you think those kids are thinking? What can we do to let them know we care?” Take and keep pictures of caring moments in their daily activity. Display and show them to the children every now and then. Make an empathy jar — each time a parent or child sees another family member act kindly, they can add a coin, small stone or plastic bead to this jar. Review the kind-acts daily, and if we use money—we can donate the money to charity. Children learn from these acts of kindness.
Kindness, empathy and compassion matter the most to people and we all love to get them. Lets teach our children to be givers of these skills and they will grow to be very happy adults.Our world will thus be a happier place to live in.
Monday, 07 January 2019 | Sona Kaushal Gupta |Dehradun | in Guest Column–