Research has found that if someone feels empathy, even if it’s just from watching a touching video, it can make them feel more connected to — and generous toward — others. In other words, practicing empathy with your kids can help them grow up to be emotionally intelligent adults. Based on our 60 years of combined experience working with parents and their kids, here are some of the most effective ways to teach children empathy.
It’s helpful for parents to understand the meaning of mirror neurons and how to use them to the best advantage of your children.
From the web:
“A mirror neuron is a brain neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate species. (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_neuron)
“Mirror neurons allow us to learn through imitation. They enable us to reflect body language, facial expressions, and emotions. Mirror neurons play an essential part in our social life. They are key for the child development, as well as relationships and education.” (from https://blog.cognifit.com/mirror-neurons/)
What this means for parents is that whatever you do–how you speak and what you say, your body language and your style–are being implanted in the memory stick of your child’s brain thanks to mirror neurons. There your example remains, for your child to replicate in many ways.
To raise children with the capacity of emotional intelligence is to model best practices for them in your life and particularly in your exchanges with them.
What is Emotional Intelligence? It is the ability to manage your feelings and behaviors and relationships in a caring, productive and responsive way.
Here are some basics.
Modeling Self-Awareness and Emotional Transparency (Rather Than Acting Out)
- Parents are humans who experience frustration and at times irritability. But instead of acting frustrated and cranky, you can “mirror” for you children coping by taking a few deep breaths and telling your kids that it’s been a long day and you’re a little tense. In this way, you model how to manage frustration in a positive way. Kids need to learn to name their feelings rather than act them out.
- We all want to be seen and appreciated. Model it by openly sharing why you love, admire or appreciate your partner – this to your partner in front of the kids. Do the same with your kids every day – note the qualities in them you want to show appreciation for.
- Make it a norm to discuss your day and ask your kids about their days at school, to encourage open communication.
- When your kids act out, empathize and encourage them to talk it out. This teaches your child that her emotions are valid.
- Patience takes practice. From early childhood, kids gradually learn to manage strong emotions and to wait for gratification. Parents can teach and model patience and poise for kids.
- Emotions are normal. To be punished for negative ones is experiencing the opposite of a parent who is emotionally intelligent – and you can expect your kids to model that. As much as possible share your feelings conversationally and encourage them to do the same.
- Emotions run high when we are tired or hungry. When you help your kids understand that they’re extra frustrated because it’s close to bedtime or mealtime, you are helping them understand that their feelings are temporary and this frustration will abate.
- Through their childhood, kids do best when they learn to put their experience in perspective. Parents teach and reinforce these lessons in an empathetic way by sharing your own wider and empathetic perspective on events. You can also reinforce lessons by reading stories that reflect these values and through creative play.
- Throughout the day, talk out recent playdates and other events with your child.
- The height of social awareness is understanding the point of view of others in a non-judgmental way. So, when you talk about others, seek to explain the forces driving them, including the societal impediments as you understand them such as race or poverty.
- Learning to maintain friendships and to get along with family is vital. Kids learn that building and maintaining relationships takes work at home.
- Good listening rather than shutting others down is a superb relationship skill to model. The reminder for this is almost biblical: “Seek first to understand and then be understood.” Apply it with kids as well.
- Every time you mediate a fight with siblings, you are helping kids learn relationship-nurturing skills such as conflict resolution.
- When you help your kids plan a party with the goal of what would create the most satisfaction and connection for party goers, you are modeling consideration of others.
- When you contact a friend who is upset, talk your partner through a tough day in front of the kids, or make sure you keep social plans with the kids, you are also modeling good relationship skills.
- Deciding among a series of good or bad choices is challenging. Kids learn this well – or don’t– from their parents.
- When you allow your preschoolers to pick from among three outfits or let them pick one toy to bring on an errand, you are providing them an opportunity to practice making a decision.
- When you are having a hard time deciding what to order at a cafe and verbalize this, you are letting your kids know that decisions can be hard for grown-ups too.
All this can be hard work. Parenting is a tough but important job! Mirror neurons are one way to use biology in your favor. Learn more about the benefits of Emotional Intelligence your child will enjoy because of your hard work.
This recent Huffington Post article speaks for itself:
Our kids have had an exceptionally bad hand dealt to them the past few months. They’ve been separated from their entire social structure, their classrooms and all sense of normalcy. And parents have certainly struggled (to put it mildly) to keep up. So how can parents use this time at home ― whatever that looks like ― to teach their children other important life skills and foster their emotional intelligence?
HuffPo answers that question with a package of resources.
One part of the package outlines seven habits of highly emotionally intelligent kids. Those habits include
- Fluency with emotions, theirs and others
- Perspective taking
The package includes links to other relevant HuffPo articles kids’ emotional intelligence.
Also, don’t miss the gallery of 35 children’s books that teach empathy and kindness.
For many of us, one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives was puberty. This is hardly an exaggeration—our bodies are experiencing significant changes and our thoughts are undergoing transformation as well, all while the frontal lobe of the brain is developing and forming our impulses for emotional control.
All parents want when they send their child off to kindergarten is to see them succeed for years to come. But how can you ensure your child is setup to get good grades, attend an amazing college, and take on the world like a pro? It actually has less to do with the brain and more to do with the heart.
Emotional learning is a lifelong process that begins at birth and continues throughout your child’s entire life. It’s common knowledge these days that children with high EQ have better lifelong outcomes, from school to work and beyond. The benefits include increased life satisfaction, better relationships, and higher stability. Who doesn’t want that for their child?
As educators, parents, and childcare workers, we’re lucky enough to live in an era where emotional intelligence is finally discussed in the open. Researchers focus on the benefits of high EQ in childhood, but they’re less vocal about the problems that plague adults with low emotional intelligence as they try to navigate the social aspects of school, work, and relationships.