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Apr 4

You, Me and We: Teaching Your Kids About Empathy

The great Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

Reading to your kids – especially when they are very young is good for so many reasons. It helps you bond with them; it increases their learning abilities; it helps them build their communication skills. And the list goes on.

But Einstein was likely not just suggesting that reading to kids is good. He might also have been giving us a hint about the importance of teaching our kids about empathy and how we might go about it.

But before we explore that further, it is worth pausing to consider what empathy is and why it is so important. In the simplest of terms, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It is to understand what another person is feeling. This is different from sympathy which is feeling sorry for someone else. It is worth explaining this to kids as there is a subtle but important difference!

Empathy is so important, not only because it makes you more successful both personally and professionally but also because it makes you happier as an individual. Being able to understand the people around us, whether in personal relationships or in a professional setting, allows us to meet their needs. And meeting the needs of others is essentially what moves us forward in life. But it also gives us a connection to those around us. That connection to the world is a critical element of happiness. Not having that connection can create a sense of loneliness and hopelessness, neither of which we want for our children!

So why does Einstein want us to read fairy tales to our children and how does it teach empathy? The characters and kids readingstories in fairy tales expose your children to different worlds and challenges. In a way, it builds their experience base and allows you to talk with your kids about what the characters in the stories are experiencing.

Einstein died in 1955 and a lot of thinking has moved on since then. There will be those who warn you off of fairy tales as they might make your children wonder why their lives do not always end as neatly and happily as a fairy tale. Others will say that the themes in fairy tales are out-dated and do not reflect our thinking on issues such as the role of women in society.

Love them or hate them, take the key message away: reading stories, whether fairy tales, basic children’s books or great literature, will give your kids an early foundation in listening and understanding the situation in which others find themselves.

There are many other ways you can teach your kids about empathy – show them by modelling the behaviour yourself; work with them to identify their own emotions as it helps identify similar emotions in others; teach them good listen skills. However you go about, get on with it! It is too important a skill to think about another day.

And if you are at all skeptical about the importance of empathy, look for examples of those who lack it. One of my favourite examples is Dr. Sheldon Cooper on the TV show The Big Bang Theory. The show is so funny in large part because of Sheldon’s total lack of social graces, including empathy, and the struggles he has because of it. Watch one episode and you will be straight on to teaching empathy to your kids!

At SOSsitter.ca, we empathize with your need for help in your home! SOSsitter.ca is a Canadian portal designed to help you find local caregivers in your area, easily and quickly. The caregiver who is right for your family is only a click away.

 

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