Empathy isn’t just taking another perspective. Con men can do that. In order to be empathic, children need to know how to value, respect and understand another person’s points of view, even when they don’t agree.

Source: Teaching Children Empathy

A classroom full of empathic children runs more smoothly than one filled with even the happiest group of self serving children.

Family life is more harmonious when siblings are able feel for each other and put the needs of others ahead of individual happiness.

If a classroom or a family full of caring children makes for a more peaceful and cooperative learning environment, just imagine what we could accomplish in a world populated by such children.

When Harvard University released the report, “The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values,” many parents and educators were surprised to learn that despite all our talk about empathy, kids may value individual happiness over caring for others.

Empathy is a combination of both compassion and of seeing from another person’s perspective. It is the key to preventing bullying and other forms of cruelty.

Five suggestions for developing empathy in children:

1. Empathize with your child and model how to feel compassion for others.

A child develops these qualities by watching us and experiencing our empathy for them. When we show that we truly know our children by understanding and reacting to their emotional needs, exhibiting interest and involvement in their lives, and respecting their personalities, they feel valued. Children who feel valued are more likely to value others and demonstrate respect for their needs. When we treat other people like they matter, our child notices, and is more likely to emulate our acts of caring and compassion.

2. Make caring for others a priority and set high ethical expectations.

A child needs to know that we are not simply paying lip service to empathy, that we show caring and compassion in our everyday lives. Rather than say, “The most important thing is that you are happy,” try: “The most important thing is that you’re kind and that you are happy.” Prioritize caring when you talk about others, and help your child understand that the world does not revolve around them or their needs.

3. Provide opportunities for a child to practice.

Empathy, like other emotional skills, requires repitition to become second nature. Hold family meetings and involve each child by challenging them to listen to and respect others’ perspectives. Ask children about conflicts at school and help them reflect on their classmates’ experiences. If another child is unpopular or having social problems, talk about how that child may be feeling about the situation, and ask your child how he or she may be able help.

4. Expand your child’s circle of concern.

It’s not hard for a child to empathize with their immediate family and close friends, but it can be a real challenge to understand and feel for people outside of that circle. You can help your child expand their circle by “zooming in and zooming out”; listening carefully to a particular person and then pulling back to take in multiple perspectives. Encourage your child to talk about and speculate on the feelings of people who are particularly vulnerable or in need. Talk about how those people could be helped and comforted.

5. Help a child develop self control and manage feelings effectively.

Even when a child feels empathy for others, societal pressures and prejudices can block their ability to express their concern. Angry over a perceived slight can be a real challenge for a child to engage their sense of empathy. Encourage children to name those stereotypes and prejudices, and to talk about their anger, envy, shame and other negative emotions. Model conflict resolution and anger management in your own actions, and let your child see you work through challenging feelings in your own life.

The old view that we are essentially self interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid. Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified an “empathy circuit” in our brain.