Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash
Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

Modeling Empathy For Your Children


We have two wonderful teenagers but at times are concerned with the lack of compassion and empathy they have for some of their friends or those less fortunate.  Are there some things we can do to help them become more empathetic?


Absolutely!  One of the greatest gifts any parent can give their children is to help them develop the character trait of empathy and, over time, to become an empathetic person.

Empathy is more than just being sympathetic, agreeing with someone or trying to fix a problem.  Sympathy involves feeling sad for someone.  Empathy involves feeling sad with them.  That’s a huge difference.

Consistent with the teaching of Deuteronomy 6, the very best way to teach empathy is to demonstrate it.  Real empathy involves choosing to listen, to understand, to look through their eyes, listen with their ears and hear with their heart.  It involves being present and recognizing emotions in others and noticing that they might be in pain.

Talk about your own emotions and help them name their emotions.  Help them distinguish between their hurts, frustrations, fears and anger.  Discuss how one person’s actions can affect someone else differently than it affects them.

Think and talk about the less fortunate and what it might feel like to be them.  Helping your kids notice their own emotions and the emotions of others can create whole new levels of compassion.

In fact, Dan Siegel, M.D. a leading neurobiologist, cites research showing that by simply drawing your child’s attention to other people’s emotions during everyday encounters, you can actually open up whole new levels of compassion within them and help them create new neural pathways in their brain..

As we read the Gospels it becomes clear that one of the most powerful aspects of our Lord was His ability to communicate love through His empathy for every person he met.  In Romans 8:29a, Paul writes, “For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.“ (HCSB)  Clearly, one of the best ways to look like Jesus is to love like Jesus.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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