As we near the holidays, no matter what you celebrate (or if you celebrate), there will always be families with more and families with less. To your youngster, seeing a friend receive expensive toys or a friend that doesn’t receive toys at all due to financial constraints can be confusing.
“Why does Anna have this and I don’t?”
“How come Frankie doesn’t get a lot of presents and I do?”
As a parent/caregiver, you can use these scenarios as teachable moments to show your kiddo what compassion is and how important empathy is when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
Be the supermodel of empathy
A wise sage once said, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love yourself?” Ok, that sage is RuPaul Charles the Mother of all Drag Queens and Supermodel of the World but there’s something to be said about walking the walk and talking the talk. Unlike RuPaul, you don’t have to talk and walk in eight-inch heels. Unless you want to. To be the supermodel of empathy, you have to be empathetic yourself.
Kids absorb everything around them from what they read in a story to things they hear on the playground. If they see you being empathetic, they’ll be empathetic in turn without realizing it. If you teach your kiddo the meaning of empathy by using real-world examples, they’ll see how being empathetic relates to their everyday life. You can do this by explaining the impact of words.
For example, if you order food and it comes without ketchup even though you specifically asked for ketchup because your child will not eat anything without ketchup, don’t get upset with the server or the kitchen staff. Instead, explain to your little one that mistakes happen and there’s no point in getting angry when you can easily ask for ketchup.
Celebrate and nurture differences
It’s no longer a small world after all, it’s a great big world full of exciting people and places. However, we’re not all the same. Some of us may have mobility issues or problems with vision. Some of us may require braces to straighten our teeth or our backs. No matter what the differences between us, showing kids that those things don’t define us is a great way to teach compassion. This will also prepare them for school where they’ll be surrounded by other kids, some of whom have special needs. Your kiddo will also learn that it’s not ok to make fun of others and may even stop other kids from picking on those who are different from them.
We have different skin colors and speak different languages. By allowing your child to celebrate and nurture your own culture and that of others, you’re setting your youngster up for success down the line. Plus, they’ll be more adventurous with food once they get a taste of dishes from other cultures. No more drowning everything in ketchup!
Practice gratitude please, and thank you
Children that learn the basics of saying “please” and “thank you” are more likely to be generous, helpful, and compassionate people when they get older. When you show your kiddo how to practice gratitude, you’re giving them the tools to understand that being polite goes a long way.
You’re also helping them learn to appreciate what they have which could lead to them being less covetous in the future. For instance, if your little one claims that their friend has more or better toys, you can help them see that the toys they have are enough with a little imagination.
Embolden your kiddo’s emotional vocabulary
For children to process their emotions, they need to be able to label them. Once they can identify their own emotions, they’ll be aware of others’ emotions and can empathize. A great way to embolden your little one’s emotional vocabulary (how they speak about their own emotions and reflect upon them) is to start with your face.
Try this: put a big smile on your face and tell your kiddo which emotion accompanies a smile. Then frown and do the same. You can also make flashcards (digitally on your computer or as an arts and crafts project) with different faces and a range of expressions that correspond to their respective emotion. Additionally, you can use your reading time to ask your youngster to name the emotions the characters are going through.
Once your kiddo has expanded their emotional vocabulary, they’ll be able to put a name to what they’re feeling and what others are feeling too. If they notice a frown on their sibling’s or friend’s face, they’ll be more empathetic towards them and not only ask what’s wrong but try to comfort them.
Make examples out of kindness
When you see your little one perform an act of kindness on their own, let them know you’re proud of them. Whether it’s giving up their turn on the slide or letting a friend play with their favorite toy, letting your kiddo know that they’ve done a good deed encourages them to do more good deeds. But, be careful not to overdo it otherwise your child will see praise as a reward for kindness and it will distort the reason they’re being kind in the first place.
Explain how gift-giving is done in your family vs others
To a little one, a birthday gift, holiday gift, or any gift for that matter, is a treat until they see what they don’t have. Sit your kiddo down and talk to them about the meaning of gift-giving and how it’s about love and not showing off that you have the most expensive toy. Also, use this talk to teach them about those who have less. And if you’ve got extra to give, why not take your kiddo to a food bank or shelter to hand out items to those less fortunate? By visiting a shelter or food bank, your child can see how compassion and empathy work first-hand and learn a thing or two about the power of helping those in need.
Care for a pet (or Snorble®)
A pet doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. A pet can be an object or in the case of Snorble, a smart companion for kids. When children care for something special, they pick up social-emotional skills and learn about platonic relationships which play a big part in their development. As an added bonus, Snorble can also play educational games with your kiddo and help them get a good night’s sleep. Plus, Snorble is cuddly and huggable!
Photo by Edgar Soto on Unsplash