Activities to increase a child’s empathy

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:

Harvest time: of kids and carrots and character

seeds in handIn early Spring, when we tore open seed packets of carrots and pumpkins, the golden days of harvest  were far away. I like what Ann Voskamp says, “The seeds, they fall into my hand small, jewels. But to look at seeds and believe they will feed us? When…it doesn’t look like near enough. When it looks like less than a handful instead of a plateful, a year full, a life full. When it looks inedible.  These seeds, they are food? It looks like a bit of a joke. To hand someone seeds…and ask him to believe in a feast?”

Being mindful of the future feast in a child’s life

When kids are what we seed, it can help to take time from life’s busyness to recapture what our hopes and dreams are for their spiritual life. Here’s a visualization exercise:

Serve-and-return dynamics in childhood spirituality

volleyballWith two nieces on top-ranked college volleyball teams (Hawaii and UCLA) I sat in a lot of gyms watching serves and returns.

Serve-and-return parenting

Psychologists sometimes use the term “serve and return parenting” to refer to face-to-face, back-and-forth interactions between caregivers and their babies. Science Journalist Paul Tough observes that these interactions create secure attachments and they motivate a child’s enthusiasm in practicing social interaction, speech and language.

toddler girl calmBut I also observe the same serve and return dynamics in the development of human spirituality, sparking growth in conscience and character.

 

Serve-and-return spirituality

Children experience the calm in the inner space of their human spirit that they need to incubate perseverance, tenacity, and the other significant character qualities. These character qualities then carry over into their everyday life.