So, how do we combat bullying before it starts? How do we inculcate kindness and acceptance into five-year-olds? The key to kindness and acceptance is empathy. A lot of people argue that you cannot teach empathy. While I agree that it is difficult to teach empathy, I believe it is possible.
First, what is empathy? Empathy is made up of multiple components: an awareness of a “self” that is separate from other people; the ability to recognize another person’s perspective and the ability to regulate emotional responses.
I have compiled a list of several ideas in order to help your child “learn” empathy:
Support children in times of distress. When children feel that their own emotional needs are met, they are better able to recognize the emotional needs of others. Therefore, helping your children recover from their own emotional setbacks will help them have empathy for other people.
Talk to your kids. When parents talk to their children as if they have a mind of their own and treat their children as individuals, they encourage children to look at others as individuals with their own feelings and emotions.
Point out commonalities. Studies show that children are more likely to feel empathy for those who they feel are similar or familiar to them. Teach your children to find similarities with people – even if they are very different. Explain to them that everyone has certain things in common.
Role-play. Children can learn a lot from stepping into other people’s shoes for just a few moments. Help your children role play how they would feel if they were the person being bullied. Even books and stories can help children understand other people’s perspectives.
Smile and give lots of hugs. Children are more likely to be generous and kind if they feel secure and loved. Therefore, smiling at your children as a way of signaling approval and giving lots of physical affection will help your child feel self-confident. Those who are self-confident are less likely to bully others (and more likely to be able to see the world through others’ eyes).