At a soccer game recently, my five-year-old son, Harrison, hit the ground hard and got the breath knocked out of him. One of his teammates pulled him up off the grass and checked on his condition. Some children are born with a softer nature, but this was more than that. This little boy genuinely cared. He held my son’s sweaty hand until he cooled off and rehydrated. They both joined their teammates a little later–together. I complimented the kind boy’s mother on the tenderness she had taught her son. All the other players blew past Harrison down on the field, but her son had stopped.
As moms, we are busy getting through the carpool line, the grocery store aisle, and through work and volunteer projects. By slowing down to see the needs around us, we can we teach our kids one of the most important aspects of life and friendship: empathy for others.
Helping Your Kids Have Empathy
Here are some practical tactics I am encouraging my kids to practice, in an effort to set their sights on others instead of themselves.
How Can I Help?
Asking “how can I help?” is the question that begins our family’s day. Action items may include getting another sibling ready for school or loading the car for afternoon activities. My kids know how hectic their teachers’ schedules are, so I ask them to practice the art of assisting in their classrooms, too.
I have one daughter that loves making lists. I have her help me on my daily outline of “to-do” items so that she knows what I am working on, and I assist with her list. If I am running late or need to take a work call from the car, she understands why because she has followed what my day includes. My schedule is busy just like hers, but we have different tasks, all of which are important. Just like adults, kids can get wrapped up in themselves. Having a mind focused on helpfulness keeps gratefulness close.
Work to help your child create self-awareness. Kids tend to brag and push their self-interests in front of their peers to build their self-esteem. Watching your child make 30 baskets on your home basketball court is not a fun playdate for a friend that does not participate in sports.
Although confidence is a wonderful thing, it is important to explain to our children that their friends may have different hobbies. No one likes to be around someone who is self-consumed by their talents. It is important to know what your friends are interested in and ask them about their passions. Showing up for their performances and cheering them on are wonderful memories to share.
Speak to the Elderly
Encourage your kids to speak with elderly adults and lookout for their needs. A grocery store is a great place to practice these action items. Ask your children to strike up a conversation with an older adult by genuinely asking about their day. Offer to help them with their bags and out to their car. These simple interaction tools will help build respect for elders.
Create volunteer opportunities that enable your kids to understand how to support others. One of our favorites is Operation Christmas Child. We love packing boxes for children and tracking where they arrive around the world. We discuss what living in the various countries might be like for the kids who receive the toys, possibly with no running water, lack of medical care, and little access to schooling. Growing up in the United States is truly a luxury.
Thank Those in Uniform
Approach a man or woman in uniform and say, “Thank you for your service.” We owe so much to our those protecting our country and serving in the field of law enforcement. They should have our utmost respect and gratitude.
Educating our kids about the importance of patriotism and appreciation for the sacrifices our military families make daily provides the chance to talk about what life must be like for them. We can talk about our armed forces and those stationed overseas far from family and friends.
Teach emotional intelligence. No one wants to be around people who can’t control their reactions or lash out in anger. Being able to hold our tongues, moods, and triggers enables us to tune into our own feelings without dumping them on others. The best kind of friends do not create unwarranted drama in relationships.
Make Others the Focus
One of my clients, a mother of four, once told me that no one on her daughter’s softball team knew she was the CEO of her own company. I was shocked. She was the founder of one of the fastest growing small businesses in Alabama, a very successful entrepreneur.
Why wouldn’t she want anyone to know that she ran a thriving enterprise? Her answer was wise and thoughtful: “I talk to the other mothers at the ballpark about their lives and their families. Some work outside the home and some do not. My business has no bearing on those friendships, and I don’t think it matters to share what I am doing to manage my company.”
What truth! Does personal success really have anything to do with friendship? No, caring people make others the center of their conversations. They are constantly putting themselves in other’s shoes, seeing several sides, and adding perspectives to various situations.
As parents, it is easy to make our kids the center of our universe, but this will not help them grow to be their best selves. Like my son’s sweet soccer teammate, empathic individuals are wind in the sailboats of friendships.