The Thing About Empathy

How do we teach empathy in our children and young people? I have been chewing the fat over this question. I believe much of the escalating violence in our society is often due to a lack of empathy. Empathy is something we are taught. We must never underestimate the importance of it.

A blatant disregard for the welfare of others, whether it is by a violent act or abusive words, shows me that some people in our society simply do not care. Have we allowed our values to slip so we only think of ourselves and not of others?

We need to build empathy and start these lessons of caring and compassion from a very young age.

As parents we can teach our little people to see when another child is sad and look after them. Or we make sure they say “sorry” if they have hurt another child. We can also show them how to care for animals. A good way for children to learn is by looking after a pet which then translates to people.

When our eldest daughter Nikki finished her secondary schooling she was applying for a position through the Gap Scheme to work in a UK school as a tutor. There weren’t many placements available and so to help with her application and with encouragement from us she worked over her Christmas holidays in a voluntary capacity at the local IHC branch. It was an eye-opening experience for her and life-changing too. And yes, she was chosen to work in a Blind School in the U.K. It is so good for our children to learn about helping others without expecting any payment for doing so.

Children mirror our behaviour, so it is very important to show them the way by how we act. We can care for others who are less fortunate than ourselves. We can show compassion for someone in trouble, and help out in our schools and community. It doesn’t have to be a big thing we do. For us to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and so feel empathy is a trait to be valued.

If we show no regard for ourselves or our children it will then translate to little or no caring to those around them. School becomes a fight or flight place. We certainly don’t want to create bullies nor have our children on the receiving end of being bullied.

This empathy and compassion for others needs to be re-enforced at the early childhood education level and at the schools we send our children to. So it is very important to find out the values of the places we choose for our children. Are they caring and compassionate places for all children no matter whom they are?

Someone recently said to me “Damaged children become damaged adults.” It is so true. It leaves a trail of destruction of more damaged people. It becomes a huge cost to our society. So let’s start at the beginning by supporting families to help them grow healthy children in a balanced way. If we see a situation where a child is neglected or in trouble then it is our duty to step in and take action. It is important to help out. We can make a difference. The more love and care we can impart to all children and young people the better New Zealand’s future will be.

The photo is of me with  Robyn Duncan, social worker for Manchester house  who I am proud to support by helping raise funds for children and families at risk in our community.