According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, ’empathy’ means ‘the ability to understand other people’s feelings and problems’.
In parenting one’s child, attitudes and behaviour we want our child to cultivate are more often ‘caught’ rather than ‘taught’ (meaning if they see it in us they will more likely do it).
As parents, how can we practise empathy?
1) Put yourself in others’ shoes
Sometimes we can only understand why people behave the way they do if we observe others’ reactions and try to understand why they behaved the way they did
2) Learn new things
Pick up different experiences so that one will be better able to relate to others ( better understand where they are coming from).
3) Nurture self-awareness
If you have ‘skeletons in the closet’, know what they are so that you know what might cloud your judgements when your child shares with you their viewpoints or stories
4) Respecting common humanity
Other ways of nurturing kindness in yourself, home, children, others :
1. Be inspired by daily quotes
2. Cherishing written notes, cards or messages from friends /family and revisiting these messages from time to time to practise gratitude
3. Consult with teachers/ mentors/child’s role models to further one’s understanding of kindness taught in schools and relayed in the community
4. Use kind words in passing
5. Read and share meaningful acts and stories
6. Use positive phrases in self-talk
7. Accepting help as one grows older
8. Read books from wise sources
9. Dropping a call, a text (as and when) to people you are acquainted with to stay connected
Being empathetic requires kindness. Kindness is a character quality that does not sprout up overnight in some.
It needs to come from intentionality, practice and consciousness.
If a parent practises empathy often, empathy is a quality that can be ‘learnt’ by children.