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.

6 thoughts on “Empathy

  1. Perspective taking, and lack of it, is part of typical human development, and at age 3, children are usually very egocentric. They’re just wired that way, and have a ways to go as they grow. Reading story books and talking about the characters’ motivations, puppet play (I make puppets of the kids in my classroom using photographs so the kids can all have a turn to be each other), making masks and role playing are all ways to help children develop their ability to see things from another perspective.

  2. Your little one evoking a response without the sense of the feline’s feelings explains why shelters mention certain cats need to go to a home with children older than ten…
    Surely Kurtis Jr. is precocious, and with your modeling, he’ll be there long before ten.

  3. You’d be surprised how it’s not “too early” to tell your kids things…. You tell them the important things over and over, and one day, you hear it come back out of their mouths – not parroted, but ingested, digested, and served up their way. Good for you. We should all be working on modeling empathy… Maybe tattoos? 😉 I’m thinking a sleeping cat with a toddler screaming in its ear inked on our forearms should do the trick. You first. 🙂

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