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Challenge: Kids with Special Needs

Teaching Kids Empathy and Compassion

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Kids can be taught empathy and compassion, and while some parents are of the mindset that you either have empathy or you don't, there are evidence-based techniques that can build empathy in children.

Of course, there are different levels of compassion and empathy, and the level your child has will vary greatly.

But that doesn't mean it's not possible to teach either of these "innate" traits.

Provide Support to Offer Self-Regulation

Life is just beginning for a child or teen, and learning self-regulation is often easier when a parent adds their support into the mix. Parents need to provide the support a child needs to encourage:

  • Emotional support

  • Physical support

Studies suggest that children who have the ability to regulate negative emotions, as is the case when a parent is supportive, are more empathetic.

Emotion coaching for kids who are negative is most beneficial, and when children are coached at a young age, it often produces positive effects that allow them to handle frustration, exhibit compassion and develop empathy, too.

Remain Consistent with Compassion

A major issue with empathy and compassion is that parents are often divorced, arguing or simply not on the "same page." When parents are inconsistent with their support or compassion, it can lead to a child that doesn't know how to express his or her feelings.

And if you're divorced or separated, you'll want to discuss these issues with your ex. Remember, "The governing legal principle that applies to matters regarding the custody of and access to the children is 'what is in the best interest of the child.' A child is entitled to have maximum contact with each parent, consistent with the child's best interests," state family lawyers Oakville.

Best interests includes teaching your child to deal with self-regulation, negative emotions and to be expressive with their feelings.

How does this relate to compassion?

Don't be afraid to give your ex a hug or to tell your spouse "I'm sorry" in front of your child. You can even explain to your child that you were "mad at daddy because he didn't come home on time, and that you're sorry for yelling at him."

When parents are also in control of their compassion and empathy, expressing it when they can, they'll be able to help their children develop these same skills.

Help Kids Relate and Find Commonalities With Others

When kids can relate with others, they'll show more compassion and be more empathetic. Studies in adults show that adults are more empathetic when they can relate to another person's problem.

For example, a person who was in a wheelchair after a car accident will be more empathetic toward a person going through the same type of injury.

And this can relate to anything, from relationships to losing a loved one.

Teaching kids how to find commonalities with others is often one of the best ways to teach empathy. This can mean viewing an issue from the other person's perspective, or relating it to an issue that the child may have had.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.