Nurturing Empathy in Our Children: A Gift for Everyone

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Definition: Empathy is the ability to share and experience the feelings of others from their point of view. It can be an experience of thought, or a shared feeling, or the impetus for an act of compassion.

As we move into a holiday season that includes much gift-giving, there is a great opportunity to help our children develop empathy for others through guided generosity. As we know from our own experiences with service to others - Thanksgiving food drives, donations to charitable organizations, serving food to the needy, providing rides to medical services, and the like - the rewards of helping another human being often far outweigh the actual expense of our efforts. Children can learn this, even from an early age, through family commitments to those in need. Having experiences that cross social-economic status boundaries, ethnic divides, religious and racial differences, broadens the world for everyone.     

 Empathy grows when we have direct encounters with other human beings, encounters that allow us to be good listeners, active helpers, and generous givers face-to-face. These are neurological events that allow us to experience what another is feeling when we have the time and presence to share the gift of common human interaction: through "mirror neurons" we are already wired for such encounters. Physical encounters are definitely better than just writing a check, although both are needed at times.

These experiences also become valuable vehicles for social justice and a way for us to use our privilege for the greater good. Equity - everyone having meaningful access to what they need - allows everyone to better reach their potential, and service to others develops a more equitable distribution of resources.

Here are some concrete ideas to do with your child - two that serve locally and one that serves globally:

                     • Ask your child to identify ways in which they can be helpful others. Make a commitment for every family member to engage in that same activity: maybe visit a homebound neighbor for a cup of tea and a board game?

                     • Make family service to others part of your weekly routine: shopping for a food pantry, shoveling a neighbor's walk, or helping out at a local event.

                     • Take some of the money you might spend on gifts for your child and allow them to male a donation to a charity or organization that does service work. This activity will develop a sense of independence in your child and will also give you some insight into what your child may be passionate about.


Empathy is sorely needed in times of uncertainty, like now. In the midst of climate change, pandemic challenges, and cultural disputes we can all benefit from using our "compassion muscles" on a regular basis. What are you waiting for?

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This page contains a single entry by John published on November 19, 2021 10:40 AM.

Helping Children with Gratitude in the "More" Culture We Live in These Day was the previous entry in this blog.

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