Sharon Bush teaching children empathy

From a young age, my goal was to raise my children to be compassionate adults. As they grew up, they watched as I created numerous nonprofits that focused on helping impoverished children and families. It was my mission to help others that were lacking in resources and I devoted my time and energy to helping others. I exposed my children to these philanthropic activities and in turn, all three grew up and pursued their own philanthropic ventures.  I am proud of my children and their accomplishments. I am proud that they grew up into empathic and caring individuals. As a mother there is no greater feeling than to know that my children have become global citizens who are helping others in need.

All three of my children have pursued their own passion for helping others by either participating in or creating nonprofits. One of my goals as a mother was to instill empathy, kindness and understanding in my children. I wanted them to grow up with a sense of compassion for others and the motivation to help those who are less fortunate. Philanthropy was and still is a huge part of my life and I wanted to share that with my children. I am proud of my children and am happy to see them pursue their own philanthropic passions. My son Pierce Bush is the CEO of the Texas chapter of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Nonprofit, a wonderful organization that provides mentorship for children to help them realize their full potential. My daughter Ashley tutors women at safe houses to help them earn their GED degree. My other daughter Lauren is the CEO and Co-Founder of the FEED Foundation, which has the mission to fight world hunger.

Empathy is not inherent in some children but it can be fostered. It has been shown that when children learn to be empathic early in life, they grow into adults that are compassionate and understanding. People that are truly empathic typically have a high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence normally includes the following three skills: emotional awareness, the ability to harness those emotions and finally the ability to manage the emotions of both the individual and other people. These skills are essential to navigating positive relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Teaching children empathy from a young age will help them grow into successful, kind and well-rounded adults.

There are a variety of simple ways that parents can help foster empathy in their children. It does not take much for a parent to create a teaching environment that fosters empathy. Parents are the first role models a child has in life. They set the tone for how their children learn how to navigate relationships, manage emotions, and solve problems. It is up to the parents to encourage children to be more empathic. It does take time to develop empathy so parents must be patient when working with their children. Empathy is something that needs to be practiced on a consistent basis so it is important to remember that it will not be learned over night.

First and foremost, a family must create an atmosphere of empathy for the children. Create moments and opportunities for kids to ask questions and to express their feelings. Start by giving them the opportunity to learn about empathy. Have discussions with them about what empathy is and give them examples of what it looks like in the real world. Children have to learn how to be empathic so it is important to create a classroom atmosphere for them. Approach teaching children empathy like a teacher would approach teaching a subject to their students.

The second thing parents can do to help their children learn empathy is to lead by example. Show children how to model feelings by showing them warmth and empathy. It is true that children are little sponges that soak up everything they see and hear around them. They learn by watching others and are greatly influenced by those around them. By modeling these types of positive emotions through acknowledging and valuing others’ feelings, children will in turn become more empathic. Also, when children express negative emotions like anger and frustration, it is important to acknowledge how they are feeling.  By acknowledging and labeling the feeling, parents are showing them how to deal with the negative emotions in a positive manner.

A way to really drive home this lesson is consistency. As a parent, you have to be consistent with your actions and words. As mentioned above, children are sponges who soak up everything around them. They are always watching and learning and if a parent is not consistent with their own words and actions then the child will get mixed messages. For example, if a parent is preaching being kind to others and then the child witnesses that parent yell or belittle their spouse, the child will not truly understand empathy. Praise and be kind to your child, your spouse, and others so you can be the role model your child deserves. Practice what you preach with consistency and your child will learn how to be truly empathic.

The final way that parents can teach empathy is to provide a narrative and context to feelings and emotions. Talk with your children when they see complex emotions being displayed or if they themselves are experiencing those emotions. Explain the reasons why people feel the way that they do and help them by asking questions. For example, asking a child, “Emma is sad because she fell and hurt her knee. What you think will make her feel better?” This type of conversation starter will help them to connect feelings with thoughts and behaviors. It helps to open the communication channels between yourself and your child, which will set the tone for an open and honest relationship between parent and child.

Empathy is a valuable tool for helping children manage their behaviors and emotions and teaches them how to solve complex issues. It also helps children to maintain a healthy self-esteem. Schools put a lot of emphasis on learning subject matters like math, English, history, ect. and it is easy to get caught up in focusing on learning those subjects. However, empathy is just as valuable as learning how to add and subtract. Learning empathy from a young age will help your child to navigate the world at large. It will help them to better understand other people and will give them the appropriate means to be successful in their personal relationships and their professional relationships.


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