Many years ago, when my children were young, our house burned down on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, we got out safely, but were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs and our beloved dog.
The entire community rallied to help us through our terrible loss. Children who didn’t even know our family brought my kids some of their own Christmas gifts! I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world to serve others in crisis but our family’s experience really hit home in terms of the kindness of strangers. To experience, firsthand, the empathy and kindness of all the people who so benevolently reached out was a very powerful lesson for myself and my children. It was a teachable moment of epic proportions and one that we will never forget!
Empathy is an essential emotion. It's an emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that reveals itself in our ability to understand the feelings of others. But it actually goes deeper still: Empathy is not only the ability to walk in another’s shoes but to provide comfort during their time of need.
Though intangible, teachable moments are very real tools you can use to raise an empathetic child. Sometimes those moments just happen to us—like the response to the fire my family experienced—and sometimes we have to create them.
Children learn empathy by watching their parents. We can model desired behavior at home by being responsive to our children’s needs. It’s never too early to start! Here are a few suggestions for modeling empathetic behavior and creating teachable moments in everyday life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could teach a whole generation of children how to be empathetic? Just imagine what our world would be like if everyone cared for one another! I can’t think of a more meaningful EQ skill to teach our children!
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.