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Word of the Month: Empathy

Spencer’s SEL word for the month of February is EMPATHY.

Empathy is the ability to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand that person’s emotions and feelings.

Research has shown that empathy is essential to building healthy and happy relationships with family and friends and to doing well at work (and for kids, in school).

Here are some ways parents and caregivers can work on Empathy… -- Ask, “How would you feel?” When a preschooler hits a sibling or a friend or takes away a toy they are playing with, for instance, a parent needs to try saying something like, “How would you feel if someone took your toy away?” or “How would you feel if someone hit you?” The same holds true for older children. Ask the question, “How would you feel if ...?

-- Name that feeling. To help your child understand emotions and feelings, identify and label them as much as possible. If your child behaves kindly toward someone, such as by trying to comfort a crying baby or friend, say, “That was very nice of you to be so worried about your friend; I’m sure it made him feel much better when you were so kind to him.” If your child behaves in an unkind way, say, “I know you may feel angry but it made your friend sad when you took his toy from him.”

-- Talk about good and bad behaviors around you. We are constantly exposed to examples of good and bad behavior in real life and in books, TV, and movies. Talk with your child about the behavior you see, such as someone making another person sad or, on the other hand, someone helping others and making people feel better about themselves. One of the best ways to encourage empathy is to make children conscious of what they have in common with others.

-- Set a good example. Your child learns about how to interact with people by watching you and other adults in their life. Show what it means to be a kind and loving person. Help family members and neighbors, support friends and others who are in need or having a hard time. Kids are heavily influenced by what we actually do, and less by what we say.

“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)