How to Teach Kids Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

25 Sep

In the wake of recent natural disasters, we saw people come together in flooded streets or smoky neighborhoods regardless of race, nationality, economic status, or political parties. Neighbor helping neighbor, standing side by side, reaching out a helping hand during a time of great need. While these disasters were devastating, they reminded everyone we still need compassion and love. In a world brimming full of negativity, it is more important than ever that we teach our kids empathy and emotional intelligence.

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Why We Need Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Instead of raising children who only understand their own points of view, we need to encourage the development of skills to share, understand perspectives, and value opinions. Unfortunately, these skills aren’t learned overnight and take time to cultivate, starting when kids are very young and nurturing them as a child grows. This process involves social learning, something that is learned and taught by interacting with others. Social and emotional learning empowers our sons and daughters, giving them control, to manage their own behaviors into positive outcomes.

 

8 Ways to Teach Kids Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Thankfully, we have the ability to instill emotional intelligence and empathy in our boys and girls by starting early and implementing the following strategies into our daily lives:

 

Model appropriate responses, compassion, and empathy. We need to lead by example, showing how to care for the feelings of others. Avoid gossip, cruel comments, and stereotypes while making it a point to be positive, reach out, volunteer, and ask others how they are feeling.

 

Challenge their point of view. A tried and true method is to use an object lesson featuring the numbers 6 and 9.  Examine the number 6 and then the number 9, while explaining an old legend about two arguing princes. One prince was convinced that an image on a table was a 6, while the other prince believed it was a 9. This went on for years, battling over whether the number was a 6 or 9. One day, a small boy rotated the tablecloth around and suddenly, the princes saw the number from a different point of view. This new perspective stopped the fight and let the princes become friends. Take it one step further by building on this message to share times when something similar has happened in our own lives.

 

Harness the power of books to teach different perspectives. Stories and read-a-louds are wonderful tools to help children experience different viewpoints and life experiences. From the safety of home or school, kids can vicariously tag-along with characters to understand and recognize different perspectives. Make it a point to discuss what the characters are feeling as the story progresses and calmly answer any questions they may have.

 

Teach them how to listen. Emotional intelligence hinges on a person’s ability to listen in conversations. Help kids realize that it is important to stop what they are doing, focus on the speaker, pay attention, and analyze what is being spoken. Breaking down the listening process is a life skill that will help a child build their empathy and succeed.

 

Volunteer. Foster empathy, by spending time doing things for a good cause. By focusing on others, kids will help realize that we all have different needs, experiences, and lives. It will also develop the concept that teamwork pays off and we have the ability to make a difference.

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Label emotions. We can’t expect children to understand the feelings of others if they haven’t been taught about emotions or the words to describe these feelings. Throughout the day, make sure to point out when a child express an emotion and help them learn the appropriate words to express their thoughts. This technique also works while reading books, watching television, or role playing with toys.

 

Let kids witness us resolve conflict in our own lives. Let’s face it, even though we model good behaviors, there will inevitably be a time when we argue with a spouse or encounter a conflict in front of our children. We can empower our kids by making sure they see us resolve the issue in a calm and controlled manner. While this can be uncomfortable, it is a good way to show children conflict resolution in a relationship so they will be able to handle their own conflicts in life.

 

Care for a pet. Because a pet can’t speak, nurturing allows a child to discuss and wonder what the animal might be feeling or needing. This process helps kids see the world from another point of view while building a bond. If you are weary of a four legged pal, consider a houseplant.

 

What methods do you use to teach kids empathy and emotional intelligence?

 

Guest Post: Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance Hilary Smithjournalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics and wishes to help parents raise their children to be the best they can be.  Follow her on Twitter!

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