Of course we want our kids to be compassionate and sensitive to other people’s feelings. The problem is that many kids’ empathy potential is greatly handicapped because they don’t have the ability to identify and express emotions. They have tremendous difficulty feeling for the other person simply because they may not recognize the other person’s hurt, elation, discomfort, anxiety, pride, happiness, or anger. What these kids need is an education that provides stronger emotional intelligence: an adequate vocabulary of feelings and then the encouragement to use it. Once they are more emotionally literate and can understand their own feelings their empathy will grow, because they will be far more capable of understanding and feeling other people’s concerns and needs.
We also know that one of the biggest reasons some kids are more sensitive is that they can correctly interpret people’s emotional cues: their tone of voice, posture, and facial expressions. Without that emotional understanding, a child is greatly limited in his ability to react to that person’s needs. The good news is that sensitivity can be nurtured in a child.
Here are six proven solutions you can use almost anytime to tune up your child’s awareness of the feelings of others from my book, Building Moral Intelligence.
1. Praise sensitive, kind actions
One of the simplest and most effective ways of enhancing any behavior is by reinforcing the action as soon as it happens. So whenever you notice your child acting in a sensitive and caring manner, let her know how pleased it makes you feel: “Karen, I love how gentle you are with your baby sister. You pat her so softly, and it makes me so happy knowing how caring you are.” Just make sure it’s deserved. And most important, let your child know that the heart is a muscle that can be stretched and grow. When kids are aware that they can become more sensitive, kind and compassionate they are more likely to emulate those types of behaviors.
2. Show the effect of sensitivity
Sensitive, kind acts-even small ones-can make a big difference in people’s lives, so point them out to help your child see the impact his actions made. “Derrick, your grandmother was so pleased when you called to thank her for the present.” “Suraya, did you see the smile on Ryan’s face when you shared your toys?”…
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