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Flex your empathy muscles

Bullying has long been a part of schoolyard politics, but social media has given new power to would-be bullies and others. Seemingly harmless TikTok challenges, Instagram comments and other online interactions that are essentially anonymous remove the humanity from relationships and distance people from the harm that they might cause.

It’s a challenging time to be a kid.

At a time when in-person interactions are being surpassed by the anonymity of the internet, one must make a conscious effort to talk with children about how their actions and words can impact others, in person or online.

Put simply, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes and relate to what they might be feeling. For most adults, we practice some measure of empathy in our daily interactions, but the pace of a modern lifestyle can distract us from being actively empathetic. Our work and personal lives are often dictated by outcomes, which puts the emphasis on the accomplishments of tasks, rather than the exploration of feelings.

It might seem simpler to dismiss an upset child while trying to get dinner ready or while working from home, but that dismissal teaches the child that feelings are not important. A child that doesn’t feel acknowledged might not respect the feelings of others, either.

Fortunately, empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. Make sure what they learn about it comes from you:

Set an example. Make an effort to approach situations empathetically, and verbalize your process so your child knows that this is part of being a successful adult.

Acknowledge feelings. Children may not feel the way you would in a given situation. Validate what they are feeling without trying to influence their reaction.

Talk about it. Normalize talking about feelings — even your own! Let children know that they have a safe zone to discuss their emotions without judgement.

Read stories. There is a reason that most children’s books have a lesson hidden (or not so hidden) in their pages. Stories give children an opportunity to see empathetic situations played out in an approachable way.

While some people might be more naturally empathetic than others, everyone has the capacity to do better. Taking the time to nurture this trait in your children will enrich your interactions and make them more conscious navigators of the world.


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