Teaching Grandchildren Empathy
Empathy. Why do we need to teach empathy? How do grandparents play a unique role in teaching empathy? As a grandparent, there are ways to teach important things to your grandchildren that they will also learn in many times and places in life, but your example and calm leadership will stick with them. Sure they may roll their eyes, sigh or say "whatever," but the things they see and hear from you will stay with them for their lifetime, be passed to their children and grandchildren and be one of the things that always reminds them of you.
Sympathy is a feeling sorry for someone. You can sympathize and try to understand but although it usually comes from a place of caring, there's an implication of being outside the issue or slightly at a distance. True empathy comes from a place of not just caring and feeling sorrow, but of being able to put oneself in the place of the other person.
Empathy can come from having your own experiences with something but it is not always required. There are tricks to teaching children to empathize and learning empathy relates to sacrifice and focus on the needs of others. Human development studies show that we human being are pretty self-centered creatures when very young. Our job is to help them learn to recognize the kindness that is part of their nature and they will learn that through nurture and example.
Parents have just as much responsibility to teach these things to their children, but perhaps you have more time and less of the day-to-day pressure of feeding, bathing, clothing and all the other stuff that children require. If you're a grandparent that shoulders those responsibilities as well as those of a grandparent, my hat is off to you and you deserve a round of applause. Here's a few practical ideas on how to approach this particular lesson that sets us apart as human beings.
Try setting aside a day when you can discuss 'feelings' and how we should treat others. Give them examples like "If someone fell down at school and it looked really funny, what do you do? Laugh?" Give them thought provoking questions and gently guide them through the best answers while helping them to see how it would feel to be the other person. They are never too young to start. You can even use stuffed animals or dolls to practice kindness and empathy with little ones.
Tell them about the various character traits they possess and why you appreciate them. Help them to understand that character traits are more important than physical traits, with kindness being of utmost priority. A special keepsake, like a necklace that they can wear as a reminder, will make them feel a desire to be the best they can.
One thing my family used to love to do was to pick out someone in our community that needed some TLC or a little pick-me-up and spend some time making goodies and cards and letters for them and then delivering them anonymously. We called ourselves the Family Night Phantom but you can be creative and do your own thing.
Help them to see that everyone has different problems, circumstances, advantages and disadvantages and they will develop a healthy outlook and learn to see the good in people.
Most of all, live as an example. Children learn more from witnessing life's lessons than being told. Example is the greatest teacher. They are like sponges that are ready to soak up everything and they mimic what they see and hear you do—good or bad!
Grandparenting comes with great responsibility but with it comes such great rewards. It just keeps getting better.