As a parent, you want to see your child act with compassion and show empathy to others. They may need a bit of a push and some guidance, though, to learn how to show others these qualities. Teaching compassion and empathy to children can start when children are very young, according to Denver-based psychologist and author of “Peaceful Parenting,” Nancy Buck. However, if you haven't discussed these ideas and values with your children until the teen years, it's not too late, Buck advises. While the sooner you start mentioning these qualities as a family value, the better; you can still give your teen the tools to be a compassionate and empathetic individual.
One of the most effective ways to show your teen the value of compassion and empathy is to provide real-life scenarios that they can identify with, says Buck. Ask your child about a friend who is going through a difficult time, such as a parent’s divorce or a family member facing a serious illness. While discussing these events, ask your child how she thinks her friend feels. Prompt your teen to use specific words to describe the feelings and then work together to determine compassionate and empathetic responses.
Discuss Current Events
Your teen can identify with what is happening in his own life, but expand his knowledge and sense of compassion by discussing events in other cities, schools and even countries. Discuss current events that evoke compassion and empathy such as families whose homes were damaged or destroyed from a flood, hurricane or fire, Buck advises. When a teen has to think beyond his own experiences, he may be more prepared to act with compassion and empathy when interacting with others.
Turn the Tables
It is likely that parents and teens will have disagreements. Once the issue has been resolved, ask your teen to guess how you were feeling during the tangle, suggests Buck. Then, as the parent, guess how your teen was feeling during the disagreement. Once you both have shared your thoughts, reveal to one another how you were actually feeling to provide more compassion and empathy to your relationship.
Role Model Behavior
A teen may not know how to exhibit compassion and empathy if the behavior has not been modeled. Role model the behavior to provide real examples of acts of compassion and feelings of empathy, recommends Christina Steinorth, California-based psychotherapist and author of “Cue Cards for Life.” If you’ve done something to hurt your teen’s feelings, apologize for it and specifically say “I’m sorry” and identify what you’re apologizing for, she says.
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