Merriam-Webster defines empathy as the following:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
also : the capacity for this
It can be difficult to practice empathy when there are many painful things happening. Since America is facing a rare pandemic, widespread economic struggles, tensions over racial injustice and other challenges, many people are experiencing empathy burnout in 2020. That is why I asked Lynne Azarchi, the author of THE EMPATHY ADVANTAGE, to share ways that we can still encourage empathy during this difficult time.
Question: How can we parents be more empathetic towards others – especially our partners and children?
Our kids are more stressed and anxious than ever– new to quarantine, not seeing their friends and some not allowed to be in school.
Before we can be empathetic to our children and others, we need to start with ourselves. There are many benefits to being kind to yourself. It is a great way to improve your mental health and the well-being of those around you. And you will not be surprised when I say that the way to increase self-compassion is… yes, empathy! I extol empathy for others, but Job One is you need to be empathetic to yourself.
Here are some of the tips highlighted in the EMPATHY ADVANTAGE’s Self Compassion chapter:
What calms You down? Whatever it is that calms you down — do it, model it and demonstrate to your kids how you take some time for yourself every week.
Mindfulness 101: Buy a book, go online, get a book out to the library and pick and choose what works for you. You don’t have to be a dedicated yogi. Just do some of it.
Try some FUN Self-compassion for yourself: Bubble baths, nature walks, writing, reading…What rocks your tranquil boat?
Learn about growth mindset for the whole family: “Growth mindset” is the idea that hard work and dedication allow your children to take their abilities and strengthen them! World-renowned Carol Dweck, a famous psychologist, counsels us to praise hard work and effort; and add praise for love, kindness, and empathy. Empathy development needs to be part of the “growth mindset.”
Create a calming mantra for yourself like: ‘every day I do my best –that’s all I can do’.
Question: How can we help our kids to be more empathetic towards others in a healthy way?
By reducing stress, families take a big step forward together. Self-compassion helps children realize that they’re not alone in their struggles. Furthermore, research indicates that self-compassion can be positively correlated with less depression and anxiety. The better that all of our children handle stress, the better they can handle future challenges.
THE EMPATHY ADVANTAGE coaches you on how to increase self-compassion for your family. Here’s the best news! Acting compassionately and empathetically toward others engenders compassion for oneself; they go together like macaroni and cheese. How wonderful that giving support to others creates empathy for oneself at the same time.
Sadly, many kids don’t have self-soothing strategies nor know how to manage their feelings; empathy and self-compassion improves kids’ ability to do this. THE EMPATHY ADVANTAGE coaches you to:
Hold weekly family meetings – don’t forget everyone gets an equal turn.
Schedule de–stressing family time: Nature walks, a ride in the car, visit to the zoo or a museum or family arts and crafts that include activities as simple as coloring. Ask your family members for suggestions.
Tell your kids and spouse you love them often.
The Walk in Others’ Shoes activity. Use questions like these to prompt discussion:
What does it feel like to not be able to afford a laptop or an i-Pad to do your homework?
What does it feel like to be a refugee living in a tent in a camp far from their homes?
What does it feel like to worry about a parent who is a doctor or a police officer?
Take this opportunity to educate yourself using books, article and activities to teach diversity appreciation and acceptance – beyond ‘tolerance’. Check out the ‘Kids Can Cope’* book series by Free Spirit Publishing.
Model compassionate self-talk: Let your kids see you be self-compassionate, too.
Discuss and acknowledge your child’s feelings. Know that fear and anger are normal and okay in these extraordinary times.
Create a family mantra like: “May I be happy, may I be safe, may I be at ease.”
Mantras are a nice way to open or close family meetings. Together, you can make up a new self-compassion mantra unique to your family. Or how about each family member invent their own personal mantra? Have fun with it and be creative. Individual ones like: ‘I am still learning. Who can I ask for help? I am resilient. I will do better next time and of course, everyone makes mistakes.’
By teaching our kids to walk in others’ shoes, and by encouraging them to be friends with children who look different from themselves, we increase empathy for ourselves and others while we reduce stress and anxiety, ultimately creating a kinder, more compassionate, empathetic family.
‘A door closes and a window opens’. COVID, and systemic racism provide a unique opportunity to do a better job than we have in the past. After all, we are spending a lot more time these days at home.
Now more than ever, it is time for all of us to focus on creating and coaching empathetic human beings- young and old. Teaching empathy is a great foundation for a more compassionate society. Let’s change the world for the better — one child and one adult at a time. My book THE EMPATHY ADVANTAGE is here to help you.
I’ll end with this lovely quote that Ms. Azarchi shared…
Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.Mr. Rogers
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
LYNNE AZARCHI, author of THE EMPATHY ADVANTAGE, is Executive Director of Kidsbridge Tolerance Center outside of Trenton, New Jersey—a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering bullying prevention, anti-bias, diversity appreciation, empathy, and empowerment strategies for youth. She is a tireless advocate for improving the lives of at-risk youth in communities across New Jersey. Kidsbridge helps more than 2,500 preschool, elementary, and middle school students and educators improve their social-emotional skills each year. Azarchi has won many awards and her articles have been published both in newspapers and academic journals. She is a frequent speaker to parent and teacher groups, corporations and major educational conferences.