Parenting Tip: Teaching Empathy

As the facilitator of The Quest Project®-A Modern Day Rite-of-Passage program for adolescent boys my observations are “real time and accurate!” I am also an avid researcher, so when I detect a shift or change in adolescent behavior, I dig in to understand the cause.

A Lack of Empathy

There is a decrease of empathy in boys.  This decrease can be contributed to a number of things; here are just a few:

  • Parents shielding their son from tragedy (anything that may cause sadness).
  • Absence of volunteerism to help others (mowing a lawn, serving a meal at a homeless shelter etc.).
  • Not allowing him to see/observe feelings of someone who is sad.

The point is not to suggest 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.  To acknowledge and allow for the feeling of feelings is the healthiest way to process them. It allows for growth and the ability to move on. This goes for your kids too!

Teaching Empathy

Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and understand what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase pro-social (helping) behaviors and lower aggressive behaviors.

Four easy suggestions to teach empathy:

  1. Modeling-modeling good behavior starts with you! Your attitude, demeanor and expressions define what your son copies (models).
  2. Active listening-that’s 100% of your attention!  When your son is expressing himself (they rarely do!) pay attention, listen intently and carefully.
  3. Teach-teach him how feelings and behaviors affect others; display (model) empathy yourself.
  4. 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.

My Example

Over the last several years, graduates of The Quest Project are given an opportunity to volunteer at my garden, Charity PatchCharity Patch is a not-for-profit urban garden that provides fresh produce to local food pantries. We teach the young men the importance of hard work and community.  They learn firsthand what it feels like to help others and the joy it brings to both the “giver and the receiver.”

Look for more tips in my book(s) found HERE on Amazon.

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