What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling by recognising that emotion or experience in ourselves. By understanding another person’s perspective and communicating that understanding back to them in a non-judgemental way connects us through empathy. It can be about a difficult situation or simply being able to understand their point of view in a conversation.
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Empathy connects us in relationships and binds our communities together. When we practice empathy everyone’s quality of life improves. The importance of empathy extends beyond the person we are empathising with. It boosts our health, family and social connections, and wellbeing of the wider community. Ultimately, the key to positive and respectful relationships is empathy.
Tools to practice empathy in a conversation:
Read nonverbal and verbal cues
Listen without interrupting
Repeat key phrases to show understanding
Imagine how they feel
How do you to teach empathy?
Teaching empathy is about developing skills for connecting, understanding, and caring for others, and to better understand their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. A way to teach empathy in children is to nurture their emotional intelligence. An emotionally healthy child is aware of their emotions, both positive and negative, and can process with them in a healthy way.
Children learn best by example.
Tips for modelling emotional intelligence:
Talk about and identify your child’s emotions in a non-judgemental way
Be honest and label your emotions to your child showing self-kindness
Practice self-control and calming exercises like mindfulness, deep breathing, or quiet time together
Steps for teaching empathy:
1. Empathise with and show genuine interest in your child’s physical and emotional needs and show empathy for others by understanding and respecting individual perspectives and interests, including those different from you. Observing and practicing empathy helps children to build empathy for others.
2. Help children understand they are part of a larger group and to be aware of others’ needs not just their own by practicing empathy with them regularly.
3. Role play techniques on how to respond and resolve conflict in different ways to various scenarios. Listen to and name each other’s feelings until both feel understood. If your child sees you having trouble with a feeling talk through the steps you are using to cope with it.
4. Show children that caring for others like the elderly or vulnerable is important.
5. Be mindful of the messages you tell children, e.g., being considerate is also important not just school performance.
Empathetic people can put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which allows them to develop compassion, kindness, and gratitude. Empathy helps nurture positive and secure emotional attachments to people, including those we do not know, and empathy is vital for maintaining a healthy, respectful, and connected community.