It's on cute little t-shirts. It's in catchy kids' songs. It's on elementary school bulletin boards and taught over and over again:
As parents, we want our kids to be kind. We tell them to be kind. The tricky part is, it's not usually something kids (or adults!) can just turn on. It's something that's cultivated over time. Kindness is the manifestation of a deeper internal reality...a deeper internal reality that is rooted in Truth. One major factor in cultivating kindness in kids is understanding and encouraging empathy.
What is empathy?
Empathy is understanding what someone else is feeling or going through – putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how they may feel and having compassion for them.
Why is empathy an important trait to develop?
Empathy helps children become “others aware.” Empathy develops in stages as children grow. It is an important trait to develop as we teach our children the character traits of Jesus – to help them focus on others, learn to comfort and help, reflect the character of Jesus.
What might empathy look like in elementary school?
The Ripple Kindness Project offers glimpses of what kindness, borne out of empathy, may look like for kids:
Keeping an eye on our friends
Noticing when people are sad and lonely
Defending people who are picked on
Never speaking unkindly of others
Encouraging and supporting everyone
Sharing what you have with others
Showing you care about others
How can parents encourage their kids toward developing empathy?
Model empathy--being patient and forgiving and showing grace to our children when they need it.
Work on developing a trusting relationship with your children by affirming them and reaffirming their fears.
Talk about unpleasant and difficult emotions and circumstances – do not protect and hide them.
Affirm children’s behavior when they show empathy.
Talk about a time your child had someone show empathy to them – how did it feel – pray with them to ask God to give them people they can encourage.
Perhaps the deepest seeds of kindness are those planted in the truth of God's word. As we teach our children truth, and plant and water that truth with our own words and actions with and toward them, those seeds will grow.
God tells us in His word that each person is made in His image (Genesis 1:27).
He calls us to empathize with others (Romans 12:15, Ephesians 4:32).
He calls us to accept each other (Romans 15:7, I Peter 3:8).
And just like the good, good Father that He is, He models kindness for us (I Samuel 20:14, Psalm 117:2).