Teaching Children Empathy and Sensitivity

September 24, 2012

Global Citizenship

With empathy on the decline in young people, Tower School’s character education is as important as ever.  Selflessness and sensitivity are values defined as “becoming more extra-centered and less self-centered. Learning to feel with and for others. Empathy, tolerance and brotherhood. Sensitivity to needs in people and situations,” according to valuesparenting.com.   In the halls and classrooms of Tower School, faculty witness kindheartedness for humankind on countless occasions. And while many children have a seemingly organic sense of caring and sensitivity, many others possess a more self-centered attitude. Regardless, youth can and should begin to learn to expand their sensitivity and empathy, both as a skill and as a value. After all, we are teaching our youth to be well-rounded global citizens.

To help your child develop these skills, teach by example and actively listen. Show children the kinds of sensitivity that you want them to mirror. Try to make your own listening and caring more obvious. Instead of the normal parental tendencies of directing, managing, and interrogating children, try to really hear what children say. Paraphrase back to them what they have said in a way that reassures them that you heard what they said, have understood it, and are concerned about it. The practice of active listening will, in addition to encouraging your children to say more to you, set an example of the kind of sensitivity you hope they themselves will develop.

Say, “I’m sorry.” Show your children your sensitivity and help them feel sensitive toward you. Whenever you have made a mistake or misjudgment or even been a little insensitive to a child’s needs, go to them and say you’re sorry for not being more in tune and sensitive to what they were worried about or needed.

Make an effort to tell your children how the things they do make you feel. This will help children be more aware of your feelings and be more sensitive toward them. Tell them about the positive things too. For example, “It makes me feel so happy when I see you cleaning things up without being asked or helping your little brother with his homework.”

Remember that altruism does not always come naturally, so be patient. Give praise for even brief glimpses of unselfishness in youth of any age.

Russell Wells
Science Teacher, Tower School

About Tower School, Marblehead MA 01945

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