It makes sense that children who show empathy enjoy positive relationships with other children. Being empathetic is one of those beautiful heart-qualities, the stuff of ‘relationship-magic’, so teaching children empathy is going to really help them with friendships, and connections – now, and lifelong.
For young tamariki, being able to identify with the emotions of others begins with knowing their own emotions. That’s the ‘101’ of teaching empathy to toddlers: letting them experience and express their feelings, and making sure they have the names for them.
The other foundation to build off is the parent-child relationship. What tamariki experience here is what they offer up to the world! So, to teach empathy, we have to SHOW empathy: showing concern for their feelings, relating to the ‘humanness’ of those, and not just solving their feelings away – letting them sit with them, in our presence. Modeling makes sure that empathy can be ‘caught’, but we can also be explicit, starting as simply as, “so and so looks sad. Shall we go and see”?
Empathy is so important, but it’s ok that it takes time to develop. We don’t have to panic if our young child doesn’t seem to notice the feelings of others yet. We can keep watering the seeds of kindness we do see, and trust that with our support, empathy will BLOOM.