52 Weeks of Talking to Our Kids: When You Want to Teach Empathy

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I prayed for you today, though I didn’t know your name,
I saw a hurting look, so I had to stop and pray.
I prayed for you today, when I saw you on the street,
Playing on your trumpet, for everyone you meet.

That is the first verse of a song I wrote that we sang together as a family during family worship and in the van driving (especially on trips). It was our empathy song—the song that reminded us to try to put ourselves in others’ shoes and understand how they are feeling.

52 Weeks of Talking to Our Kids:  Teaching Empathy FB

There are dozens of ways to teach empathy—from saving and giving funds to help others, to volunteering to help the needy, to watching movies and reading books, and much more.

This valuable character trait can also be taught through talking (and singing!).

If you read much of what we have written, you will quickly learn that we feel that one of the most valuable parenting tools that we have at our disposal is that of discussion. This is especially true when it comes to empathy training. We have always discussed people’s hurts with our children (at appropriate ages), and even charged them with the duty of making this world a better place through their Christian love and charity.

One of the things that we never allowed our children to do was to make fun of the weak or the disabled. Calling somebody “retarded” or “crippled,” or some such other name was strictly forbidden. However, we didn’t just not let them speak ill of or make fun of those people, we taught them to show love and compassion to them.

From their earliest years, when we saw somebody who was needy, we would explain to the children that we do not know what that person goes through. That we cannot understand that person’s pain and suffering. And that we should lift those people up, not tear them down.

Talking to our kids about how others feel—those who are needy, their siblings, friends, grandparents, etc—is a great way to teach this quality…and another important time to talk.

Yes, “How do you think that makes that person feel?” is the beginning of empathy training. Teaching our children to see people’s needs with true compassion is the continuation of that empathy training. (And as an aside, we began “How do you think that makes that person feel?” with their siblings. We always told the kids that if they can learn how to get along with/be kind to their siblings, they can work with anybody in this world!)

We are not programmed to be selfless. We are not programmed to automatically think about others. We are born with a sin nature–a selfish nature. As parents, we have to make a conscious effort to get our children’s thoughts off of themselves—and onto those around them. We can do this quickly, constantly, and easily through discussion.

Many years ago, when the older children were ten through fourteen, we took a trip to Chicago. We spent a long weekend visiting museums, swimming at our motel, and, of course, talking. We had many opportunities to see those with needs and discuss these situations. Before we left that weekend, we had written a song (amateur poet, here) that described what we saw and felt that we still sing today—and that reminds us to look around us and see the hurting people—and try to find ways to help them.

 

“I Prayed for You Today”

I prayed for you today, though I didn’t know your name,
I saw a hurting look, so I had to stop and pray.
I prayed for you today, when I saw you on the street,
Playing on your trumpet, for everyone you meet.

(Chorus) I know it doesn’t seem like much, just a simple little prayer.
But I want you to realize there is a God who cares.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, I wish I could do more.
But the very best thing that I can do is take you to the Lord.

I prayed for you today, when I saw you with your cane,
Your yesterdays have flown right by, and now you’re old and lame.
I prayed for you today, when I saw you on your porch,
You looked so sad and lonely, so broken and forlorn.

(Chorus) I know it doesn’t seem like much, just a simple little prayer.
But I want you to realize there is a God who cares.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, I wish I could do more.
But the very best thing that I can do is take you to the Lord.

I prayed for you today, when I saw you with your friends,
Trying to be popular, trying to fit in.
I prayed for you today, when I saw you at the zoo,
Being a daddy all alone is difficult to do.

(Chorus) I know it doesn’t seem like much, just a simple little prayer.
But I want you to realize there is a God who cares.
I know it doesn’t seem like much, I wish I could do more.
But the very best thing that I can do is take you to the Lord.

Empathy doesn’t just happen. Yes, we can say that one child is more tenderhearted than another. We can see leanings towards empathy—as well as leanings towards selfishness—in our children. But empathy is something that we can teach our children—a learned behavior, if you will—that we can instill in them beginning at very young ages, in our homes. And a trait that can be taught through talking.

 

Related links:

[article] Four Things Teens and Young Adults Need

[podcast] Ways to Spend More Time With Your Kids

[podcast] Ten Tips for Staying Close

[podcast] Using Audios With Children

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