Children inherently have empathy for others.
Psychologists explain this as being the norm, not the exception. If that is the case, then where does it seem to go as we get older? I cannot help but look around the news and social media and wonder this often. Daily we see videos viewed by millions of one person or group discriminating against or needlessly attacking another. Media attacks, barrages of public insults, and a total lack of empathy for others.
The “Not my problem” mentality appears to shift into frame more as we turn the corner into adulthood. Do as I say, not as I do… is it that we merely never noticed before how harsh the world truly can be?
Empathy helps us learn right from wrong.
A parent never wants their child to feel bad. On the other hand, empathy helps us teach our children what is right and wrong. Consider the response of children within a preschool or play group after a child starts crying, for example. The children almost always as a whole, tense up. Some may start crying also, depending on what caused the first child to start crying. Many stop playing, entirely unable to focus on their own task at hand if another is visibly and vocally upset. “What is wrong?” children ask. Several surround the crying child. One puts their arm around the child’s shoulders while another offers a toy, a tissue or a hug. This is their inherent empathy; a built-in skill that may eventually be defeated by experience, rejection, a shift in societal norms, loss, or deception.
Ensuring as a mother that I do all I can to give my children the tools which allow them to trust this gut feeling of caring for others is a task as important to me as ensuring their physical safety. Emotional health at any age is extremely important, though often a lesson we learn after neglecting such. But there will stand times in our young one’s lives where putting others first is not going to be in their best interest. Treading that line, and dreading that day of teaching, is our job as parents. I often wonder, where does that line exist? And once crossed, can we ever go back?
Children are sponges.
Good and bad, positive and negative, the absorption of life experiences knows no bounds. Whatever a child is faced with, they will learn from it in some way. In many cases, this may not be obvious to us until long after damage is done to their innocent souls. From the first time they hear a curse word uttered out of their parent’s mouths, to the first homeless person we shuffle them past on the street, how we react can frame and dictate how they themselves will react in the next situation. As their parents, if we stress, our children do as well.
Thus, isn’t it purely natural for them to take our reaction to any number of circumstances as the answer? Stub your toe, drop an F-bomb. See someone sleeping on the streets, cross the road. Lest we forget, that another inherent trait within every child is their uncanny ability to ASK QUESTIONS! And ask, they do….
“Do as I say, not as I do.”
Expecting our children to drastically diverge from the examples we set is unrealistic. As unrealistic as most of us ever being able to offer money to every homeless person in the world. Or stepping in to break up every fight, to comfort every aching soul, to rescue every person in need. But setting the example to show that there is always something that can feasibly be done, is possible. It takes work and dedication, setting boundaries and realizing where helping others will empower versus neglect our own selves. I like to look at it as real-world, macro problems being solved by individuals on a micro scale. Volunteering time in a homeless shelter will give you and your children something to share when passing a homeless family on the street. Offer to spend time walking dogs and playing with kitties at an animal shelter, if adopting one is out of the question. Knowing how hard it is to gain something back that we have already lost, nurturing this empathy is my goal.