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:

Resilient kids are made outside their comfort zone

Are we doing children a favor by letting them have the easiest and best of everything? “What distinguishes healthy families is not the absence of problems or suffering but rather their coping and problem solving abilities.”  (Froma Walsh)

A good definition of “resilient” is found in Ms. Walsh’s book, Strengthening Family Resilience: “the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”

Ways to let children practice resilience

  • Praise a child’s patience with a younger sibling’s interference with their toys, rather than jumping to stop the conflict.
  • Encouragement: “You’re a star when it comes to trying new things.”

Tell children your own spiritual stories

Many times, a personal story sheds a brighter light on the subject than moralizing. Rather than telling a child facing a question or decision what to do, telling them a story from your own life can be much more helpful. It helps them think creatively and gives them the confidence that they can come to their own solutions.

When children raise questions, our ideal response is to hear them out and invite more dialog. Lisa Miller uses something like: “You bring such important questions to the family;”  or “When I was a child I wondered that, too. I am so happy you are sharing these thoughts with me.”