"I care about myself. I care about others."
The ability to empathize is crucial to getting along with others in any setting--school, home, work, sports. We practice empathy not only because it makes our school a safer, more caring place to learn. As we prepare our children to enter the workforce, it's absolutely necessary to put a high priority on practicing empathy. Current research tells us a majority of employers wish their employees were better at empathy. If you're interested, you can learn more about this in the articles linked below:
- Why Empathy Matters in the Workplace Forbes.com.
- Top 5 Social Skills for Workplace Success Balancecareers.com
- CEO who hired for Microsoft, Amazon: Top 3 in-demand skills by 2030--and the interview questions employers ask to see if you have them CNBC.com
The concept: Empathy is understanding how another is feeling or what they might be feeling, and doing something to show we care. Empathy is foundational to tolerance, kindness, and forgiveness. Empathy for oneself is equally as important as empathy for others. At BMSA, we teach 3 steps to practicing empathy:
- Notice our feeling.
- Notice the other's feelings.
- Do something to show we care.
Here's an examples: One sibling feels happy that they got a snack after a soccer game. He can notice his own happiness, then notice the sadness or longing in his sibling, and decide to share.
Hand Gesture: Hold hands palms up in front of you like you're holding a level. Alternate raising one hand while you lower the other, up and down like a see-saw.
The Tool: The level as a symbol for the Empathy Tool reminds us that we can and should have empathy for ourselves too. Caring much more about other people's feelings than our own can lead to a negative self-concept and less than ideal relationships. On the other hand, if we care much more about our own feelings than we do about other people's feelings, we're likely to make choices that hurt relationships and we'll miss opportunities to make things better. The level reminds us of habit #4, Think Win-Win, Everyone Can Win!
Encouraging the Empathy Tool at Home
You Go First
As a parent, you have an inherent instinct to have empathy for your children. But as life gets busy and we feel stress, it's sometimes hard to tap into that. Here are some ideas to help you sprinkle more kindness in your interactions:
- 100 Positive Things to Say to your Child: It may sound silly to need a list, but it's great to introduce new ways to show you care. This article reminds us that whatever positive things you say, it'll be more effective if you use eye contact and speak at the right volume (not over the child).
- Write kind notes to your child. You can put them in their backpack, on the bathroom mirror, or somewhere else they will find it. Write from your heart or use ideas from the link above.
- Make a What's Right With ________ notebook. Kids are so used to being told what to do and corrected, it's refreshing to know that parents also see all the good in them. A notebook designated for each family member gives an avenue for communicating what we appreciate about them.
- Use specific language to communicate the behaviors or character traits you want to encourage. See the article Can You See What's Right with This Picture (and your Kids) for tips on incorporating more strength vocabulary in your home. It's a great way to intentionally encourage your child to continue growing in the directions you hope for them.
Explicitly Model Using the Tool
When you catch yourself needing to use your empathy tool, share that with your child. An example at work might sound like this: "This morning, I was feeling really frustrated because a co-worker missed a deadline that made it difficult to get my work done. I used my empathy tool and noticed that she was really overwhelmed with her work. I offered to bring her lunch back, and it felt good to show I cared."
Practice as a Family
- Ask "How do you think _______ is feeling." You can do this about real people or characters from books or other media.
- Make a game of guessing feelings. Family members can take turns telling about a part of their day. Others can then guess what feeling the family member had during that part of the day.
- Make a family mantra to encourage empathy. BMSA classes have empathy exercises posted to remind them of their similarities. The class members worked together to find what they had in common that would help them have empathy towards each other. For example, one class might have posted the following:
Just like me, this person has their own feelings and thoughts.
Just like me, this person has been so sad they've cried.
Just like me, this person wants to have fun, learn, and be respected.
(Now imagine sending positive intentions to this person and imagine them smiling)
- Choose books, movies, and shows that teach empathy
- Limit exposure to media that celebrates violent or mean behavior.
Encourage Family Members
- Praise family members when you notice them doing something kind by saying, "Nice job using your empathy tool!"
- When mediating an argument, invite family members to use their empathy tool. You might ask a question such as, "I'm wondering if using your empathy tools might help you settle on a win-win solution."
- When you see that your child is in Red Zone, invite them to use a calming choice (like Breathing, Quiet Safe Place or some other calming choices like the ones offered at BMSA) before inviting them to use their empathy tool. It's important that they take care of their own big feelings so they are able to think logically and seek win-win solutions.