empathetic kids

The world is full of bullies. There’s the cyber kind. The political leader kind. The mom’s group kind. And the old fashion middle school kid kind. But, I ain’t having any of it. I’m sick of them. I’m over them. And, I’ll be damned if I’m going to raise them. 

My mission in life, like most moms, is to raise nice people. I don’t care if my kids are gay, straight, vegan, carnivore, rich, poor, or even, God forbid, someone who dislikes Mexican food, they gotta be kind. The last thing this world needs is another bully. According to Michele Borba, author of the book “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in our All-About-Me World,” teaching empathy may be the best educational strategy to prevent both online and offline bullying.

So how do we raise empathetic kids in a world full of bullies? 

empathetic kids

Talk About Feelings From a Young Age

It’s important for young children to be able to name their feelings. Not only does this help them express themselves, but it also helps them recognize different emotions in other people. We can use phrases such as “I know you are sad” or “I see that you are frustrated” to address even the crankiest of toddlers. We can also help children try to understand how others are feeling by having conversations such as, “You took her toy. How do you think that makes her feel? How does it make you feel when your friend takes your toy?” Younger siblings or even pets are also a powerful tool for teaching empathy. Talk to your child about why their baby brother might be crying- is he hungry, tired, or sick? Ask your little one if they notice how their dog looks during a thunderstorm- are they scared or nervous? Explicitly pointing out the feelings of others for young children to relate to helps develop their own sense of empathy. 

Put More Emphasis on Kindness to Others than Achievements 

It’s easy to get caught up in bragging about our kids’ athletic or academic accomplishments. We love to share pictures of our children’s report cards and sports medals with our online community. We often reward our children for these achievements as well. What if we shifted our focus as parents? It’s perfectly okay to be proud of everything our kids work hard for, but consider asking your child the simple question, “What did you do for others today?” at the dinner table. Recognize the way they treat others as much (or more) than awards and accomplishments. You sat next to the new kid at lunch? AMAZING! You shared your markers with a friend who forgot hers? OUTSTANDING! 

Share Examples of Bullies

Television news, social media news-feeds, and newspapers are full of stories where someone has been bullied or acted in a bullying manner. Sadly, we don’t have to look far to find an example of a television personality, politician, or an every day person treating others or speaking about others in an unkind way. While our instinct may be to shield our kids from these stories, consider it an opportunity to talk to your children about the feelings of the people on the receiving end of such cruelty. Ask them to put themselves in that person’s shoes. How would they feel? Talk to them about what they would do if they encountered that type of bullying. For younger children, there is a multitude of books that touch on this subject that provides an easy way to introduce the subject of bullying and empathy. Here are some of my favorites I’ve shared with my own kids and the students I’ve taught.

empathetic kids

So let’s put in the hard work while our children are young to overturn our culture of bullies. Let’s raise a generation of empathetic humans who will make the world a kinder place

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Karen Smith
Karen was born in Ohio but spent most of her childhood in Florida. She attended the University of Florida, where she met her husband, and she got her Master’s in Elementary Education at the University of South Florida. She taught first grade in Tampa until her oldest son was born. Her plans to return to the classroom changed when her husband’s job brought them to Pennsylvania where they welcomed another son. The following years brought them to Raleigh and then St. Augustine. After spending two years substitute teaching in St. Johns County, Karen is now teaching VPK at a local preschool. She enjoys days on the water with her family, reading “chick lit” with a glass of wine, pretending to be Ina Garten in the kitchen, and cheering on her Gators. She embraces all things #boymom and has never met a doughnut/taco/pasta that she didn’t like.