Today I taught my three-year-old son the word “empathy”, to explain why he should not scream at the cats. I explained that empathy was the ability to imagine how it would feel to be someone else; in this case it was how he would feel if he was a napping cat and had a little giant person screaming in his ear. I’m not sure it took. He stared at me with round eyes, and briefly gave the cat respite, but not an hour later he was chasing another one and screaming. I accept that teaching empathy will be a lifelong endeavor.
Based on how people behave on the roads, behave on the Internet, etc., a lot of parents don’t have the patience or knowledge to follow through on this empathy thing, but it’s important.
I guess the place to begin is modeling empathy. If I have one umbrella parenting observation/epiphany, it is that the main way the grown-up your child will become will treat others is based on how family members treat one another.
I’ll try to remember that when I want to crab at my wife about something petty.
I think itt’s easier to lose track of empathy with family members than it is with friends, colleagues, and (in some situations) strangers, at least those not in customer service roles and/or the drivers of vehicles who happen to share your road space. But every action is observed and learned by the child who is with you, becomes a part of the adult that child will become.
My first goal for 2014 is to model empathy.