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:

  • 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….

Here’s how:

  1. 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?
  2. Keep it short. Think 10 minutes (not counting prep time).
  3. Show them how. Model the behavior you’d like to see them copy.
  4. Let them help. Even let them take the lead as they get ideas and want to initiate service.
  5. 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.

Tweetable:  Do summer activities here to strengthen a child’s empathy and you might lower their stress hormones. Click to Tweet

One thing that will ruin your child’s life

If there is one thing that will ruin children’s lives, it’s greed. Teach them how to pull the plug on greed and you will have prepared them to thrive in the real world. –Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt, the “Everyday Cheapskate” offers timely advice, condensed here, on one aspect of character development.

Greed is the feeling of desire, of wanting everything you can think of.

Greed is like a very bad disease. It starts small and if allowed to grow it will take over your life. Greed will make you miserable. It causes temper tantrums and makes people self-centered and arrogant. It is very sneaky.

Children know that twinge of envy when their best friend shows a new phone. Or says really loud at lunch that Dad is buying a new car for their graduation gift. Multiply that feeling by 10 and you’ll have a good idea of what full-blown greed feels like. It is not good.

Greed is hazardous to their futures.

1157866_86004329 greed 2

The problem with greed is that it drives us to do things that are hazardous to our futures. Greed says it is OK to have everything we want now and to figure out how to pay for it later. Greed is something every child has to deal with and the sooner you can show a child how to defeat that enemy the better off and happier the child will be.

The antidote for greed is to be thankful for what you already have.

You prove your gratitude when you are willing to give away part of your resources. Everyone, no matter how young or how poor, has time, talent and possessions.

801960_30693474 greed 3

When children give to others it helps them to be grateful for what they have.

  • Help a younger child to read.
  • Visit senior citizens at a care facility.
  • Clean up and bring toys you don’t play with to a shelter or hospital.
  • Regularly give part of your allowance to a charitable or religious organization.

If you want to make sure your children are never defeated by greed, show them how to be givers.

Tweetable: Greed is like a very bad disease.If allowed to grow it will take. Here’s an antidote for your kids. Click to Tweet