I’ve witnessed a fair number of parents lately making the decision to “shield” their son from tragedy, death, divorce; basically, anything that may cause sadness. It’s unhealthy, it prevents him from feeling/having empathy, let me explain why.
What Is Empathy?
Psychology Today says it like this:
Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase pro-social (helping) behaviors.
Empathy is an important feeling and when we protect kids from experiencing it; they become numb to what someone else is going through. They simply don’t care.
Real Life Lessons
For instance, when you take your son to a homeless shelter and have him volunteer to serve lunch to the less fortunate, he “sees” first-hand what it might be like if he were homeless. Mowing the lawn for the elderly lady down the street who struggles with mobility, teaches him empathy for the challenges our elderly face.
Let him see some of the bad news on t.v. instead of quickly changing the channel; kids and parents crying because there was a shooting that day. If he “sees/feels” the sadness and hurt he will never want to be in that situation. He’ll feel sad by witnessing so much sadness.
I’m not suggesting that you fill him up with sad and depressing news, but I am suggesting not to shelter him so that he has no exposure to the consequences of bad choices, and at times merely life in action.
As parents we try hard to make sure our kids have “what we never had,” or “have what they want so they’re never sad.” If you’re divorced, you work especially hard to be positive and happy so the kids aren’t sad; you feel like you’re making up for the failed marriage. I get it, I understand but it’s not the answer. Feeling feelings is the healthiest way to process them, grow and have the ability to move on. The same goes for your kids!
Empathy Is Taught
Four easy suggestions on teaching empathy:
- Modeling-modeling good behavior starts with you! Your attitude, demeanor and expressions define what your son copies.
- Active listening-that’s 100% of your attention! When your son is expressing himself (they rarely do!) pay attention and listen intently.
- Teach-teach him how feelings and behaviors affect others; display empathy yourself.
- Volunteer-there are an abundance of organizations that not only welcome but need volunteers; get involved and let him see first-hand how to help others.
The awesome side effects of teaching and experiencing empathy is this, you and your son can “fill the tank,” (your hearts) with good!