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Empathy, Part 1

Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019

Around the age of two, children begin to feel empathy. That means they begin to understand how other people feel even if those feelings are different from their own. They can feel another person’s anguish and really experience that person’s unhappiness. In fact, children will try to comfort someone when they are suffering emotional pain.

Of course, for some children empathy appears to be acquired more intuitively than for others, but all children need to be and can be taught this vital ability. Why is the capacity for empathy so important? Because, as humans, it allows us to manage disagreements, tensions and difficult circumstances. In other words, with empathetic skills we are more likely to be secure and stable adults with the ability to deal with different social situations.

“How Can I Teach My Child Empathy?” is Katie Hurley’s online article (https://www.scarymommy.com/teach-my-child-empathy/ .) She describes how parents can model empathy by responding to difficult situations with empathy. This means labeling a child’s feelings and communicating understanding. And a secure child whose emotional needs are met is more apt to display empathy to others. This means that helping children understand their own feelings will help them understand another person’s feelings.

If children are lacking in the skill of empathy, they are more likely to be bullies. And they are more likely to grow up to be bullies. To me this is ironic. Bullies try to make someone else or even a whole group of people feel inadequate but it is really the bully who is inadequate. The need to put others “down” and to criticize others is an indication of someone who cannot feel empathy for others and can only feel better about themselves by belittling others. So my advice to someone who is being bullied – online or otherwise – don’t let a broken person(s) make you feel inadequate. Express your empathy for someone in need and you will know that you are a healthy and a good person.