When my children were toddlers, I wanted them to be empathetic and compassionate – to be able to see the world through others’ eyes and to turn that ability into action if help was needed.
I wanted to raise the anti-bully!
And not only did I want an anti-bully, I wanted to raise kids who stood up for the bullied, and also understood the plight of the bully.
I knew I wanted to raise empathetic and compassionate kids; I just didn’t know how to do it.
As it happens, life threw me a curve ball when my kids were five and six years old, ensuring that they would learn empathy right in their own living room.
I had what was supposed to be routine surgery. Fast-forward two months, a host of complications, a few ER visits, and a second surgery later, and I emerged as this: a woman with a painful disability caused by permanent muscle, nerve, and organ damage.
Suddenly, I had to learn to keep myself alive while taking care of my children and managing the day-to-day changes in my life. In those first hectic months, I couldn’t focus on empathy, couldn’t actively try to raise two crusaders for kindness.
It turns out that my children did not forget. Faced with a parent who struggled every day with simple tasks, my children watched and learned.
They learned when they could help. And when to step back. And when to bring me one of their stuffed animals and a hug.
They learned how to walk the tightrope of being sympathetic without being overwhelmed, something that can be hard for children and adults alike.
By watching me struggle, they learned empathy and compassion.
While our situation was unique, what I learned can help you teach your own children how to build empathy.