“If you don’t train your children how to love, they are going to miss life.”

– Dennis Rainey (Family’s life, Art of Parenting)

Raising our children to have love and empathy is a wonderful goal that can have a lasting positive impact on their lives and the world around them. Empathy is a foundation for acting ethically, for good relationships of many kinds, for loving well and for professional success. Empathy is at the heart of what it means to be human.

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What is “Empathy”

Empathy begins with the capacity to take another perspective, to walk in another’s shoes.

Why “Empathy” In Children

Think about those around you – do you prefer hanging out with someone warm and caring, or something who’s cold and closed-off? 

Nurturing empathy is essential for a child’s emotional and social development. It is through empathy that your child can build happy and healthy relationships with friends and family. Having positive relationships will be the foundation for long-term success, be it in school or professionally! 

Interestingly, studies have found that empathy is positively related to self-esteem (aka confidence). Young adolescent students have more confidence and satisfaction in life when they have empathy because they can understand and respond to the circumstances of daily life effectively. 

Having empathy also builds strong communication skills. To be able to listen to others, and express themselves clearly to be understood. 

Guide To Nurturing Empathy

There are several ways to build your children’s empathy, including modelling empathy and expanding your kids’ outer circle to include people different from themselves.

Here are our recommended practical strategies and principles to help foster love and empathy in your children:

1. Model Empathy & Practice Kindness 

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Children learn best by observing their parents and caregivers. Model loving and empathetic behaviour in your interactions with others, both within and outside the family. Take it a step further by encouraging acts of kindness within your family and in your community. Participate in volunteer activities or community service projects together as a family to reinforce the importance of helping others. 

2. Teach Conflict Resolution 

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Teach your child constructive ways to resolve conflicts and disagreements. Emphasise the importance of understanding the other person’s perspective and finding solutions that benefit everyone involved. 

3. Create a Supportive Environment with Clear Expectations 

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Make sure your child feels loved, accepted, and supported at home. A strong sense of security can foster empathy and a willingness to help others. 

You should also establish family rules and expectations for behaviour that promote empathy and kindness. Consistently reinforce these expectations with gentle reminders and affirm your child when these qualities are exhibited. 

4. Active Listening with Open Dialogue 

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Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Encourage them to share their experiences and challenges, and offer guidance when needed. 

When your child talks, listen! Show them that you genuinely care about their thoughts and feelings by actively listening to them. Give them your full attention, ask open-ended questions, and avoid interrupting.

5. Most Importantly, Teach Empathy

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While this is a really difficult topic to explain (kudos to you parents!), talk to your children about it! Help them understand the feelings and perspectives of others. There are some exercises you can try. 

Storytelling. You can use everyday situations and stories to illustrate empathy. It actives empathy by helping children realise that somebody might have a different perspective. Discuss how characters in books or movies might be feeling or imagining how a friend might feel in a certain situation.

Empathetic Play. Encourage your child to engage in cooperative and imaginative play with others. This helps them practice understanding and considering the feelings of their playmates. 

6. Bonus Tip: Celebrate Differences

Teach your child to appreciate and respect diversity in all its forms—cultural, racial, and individual differences. Encourage them to be curious and open-minded about different backgrounds and perspectives. 

This is only possible when you create an environment where your child feels safe to express their own emotions. Let them know it’s okay to feel different emotions, whether it’s happiness, sadness, anger, or frustration.

Parenting Is A Lifelong Journey Too

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Fostering love and empathy in children is an ongoing process that requires patience and consistency. Be supportive and celebrate their efforts to show love and empathy towards others. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself in this journey too.

Always remember, by nurturing these qualities in your children, you’re helping them become caring, compassionate, and socially responsible individuals who can make a positive impact on the world.

Contributor: Stephanie Wong, Founder, ACE Maker Parenting.

Stephanie is a mother of 2 adult girls. She is the Programme Director for My Think Tank enrichment centre and has a Masters in Applied Psychology. She facilitates Family Life’s Art of Marriage®, Art of Parenting®, and formerly worked in the Ministry of Education.

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