Unstructured summer days lie ahead. What activities can we use to enrich kids’ lives while having fun at the same time?
Strengthen a child’s empathy this summer and you may see these results in the upcoming school year*:
- more relaxed physically, with lower levels of stress hormones
- pay attention better and learn more effectively
- fewer behavior problems, such as aggressiveness
Children learn empathy very well by doing acts of service.
For example, you make a donation to a food pantry and you discuss with your children about how others are hungry. Sheila Sjolseth shares her experience.
The service acts where I see the most distinctive difference in my boys are when we interact with others in our community—those acts where they helped someone in a completely different situation than their own. By far, the acts of service that have been the most profound were when we helped:
- the elderly in nursing homes
- those who are experiencing homelessness
- those who have great medical need
- animals in shelters
Beyond taking in a neighbor’s trash cans or holding the door for someone–
–good as these are, empathy building means finding experiences where kids will see the needs of others and choose to meet them.
- Prepare and take healthy treats to the fire department or police station.
- Write a thank-you note or picture for the trash truck driver.
- Make a chemo care package for a family friend.
- Do an internet search for more ideas….
- Get ready. Brainstorm who we want to help. Talk about how the person’s life is different from the child’s. What can we expect?
- Keep it short. Think 10 minutes (not counting prep time).
- Show them how. Model the behavior you’d like to see them copy.
- Let them help. Even let them take the lead as they get ideas and want to initiate service.
- Reflect and debrief. Sheila asks her kids: “Was it what you expected? Why or why not? How did your service help the other person?” And I add, “How did you like doing it? What did the other person say or do to show how they felt?”
Try it once and see if it’s worth the effort.
*Harris, P.L. Children and Emotion: The Development of Psychological Understanding, 1989.
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