Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Learning to care

               One of the most important skills for a child to learn, is to care for others

It is an easy skill to learn, but learning to care is an important part of a child's development. Empathy is so difficult to teach because it is not something a toddler will naturally understand. In the egotistical world they live in, as long as it is not hurting them, it doesn't matter! Some younger children do inhibit some early forms of empathy, for example crying when another child cries, or showing concern when a child falls over. But, just how do we help a child understand empathy?

1. Discuss feelings with them : Ask questions about characters in books and how they are feeling, or how they feel when something happens to them. We constantly talk about how we feel during the day, from feeling tired when we get up in the morning, or pride when our daughter achieves something new. These feelings are then reciprocated.....our daughter told me she was so proud of me because I cooked a really nice dinner the other day!

2. Praise them when they do something kind : Whether this be a sticker, verbally or both it is important to praise a child when they have done something for someone else. My daughter was very proud the other day to have been given a sticker for reading a story to another child at her Pre school.

3. Be an example of kindness. By showing your child that you are kind to them as well as others, you are modelling empathy. Children do constantly watch the adults around them, and notice the little acts of kindness that we bestow on others, as well as when we are not so kind! If we want our children to learn to be kind, we have to be sure to model this ourselves.

4. Share stories with children which show feelings and acts of kindness. Good books for this are :

* Papa, please get the moon for me by Eric Carle

* Are you sad, Little Bear? By Rachel Rivett

* All Kinds of Feelings By Emma Brownjohn
* When I care about others By Cornelia Maude Spelman and Kathy Parkinson

5. Use pretend play to enhance empathy themes. Playing with dolls, animals etc and understanding how to care for them.

6. Discuss family members and friends who may need extra empathy. Elderly people, the young or people with additional needs. By learning about people in this way, children begin to understand that everyone is different and have different needs to others. My daughter is learning slowly about the effects of MS which affects two of her close family members. She is starting to recognise that they cannot do all the things that perhaps she can do with her Mum and Dad and that she needs to be more considerate around them.

Empathy does take a long time to understand and with young children, it is important to start small with such things as sharing and expressing their feelings where they can.

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