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4 ways to help your child learn empathy

Developmental psychologist and podcast host Dr. Marti Erickson says empathy is key to caring and respect.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — In a world where teasing, bullying and disrespect seem all too common, empathy becomes more important than ever.

"Empathy – the ability to see through another’s eyes, to feel for and with another person – is central to positive, caring relationships of all kinds," said Dr. Marti Erickson, a developmental psychologist and co-host of the "Mom Enough" podcast. "Empathy is the quality that can stop us in our tracks when we are tempted to hurt another person."

But Erickson says empathy doesn't happen automatically; it comes from experience and learning.

"Empathy is the personal quality that buffers against cruelty; a child who sees through another’s eyes, who can imagine how another feels, is much less likely to do harm," Dr. Ericson said. "We all are born egocentric (absorbed in self). As we mature, we develop the capacity to be empathic; however, maturation is not enough.  From the beginning of life, our experience and learning affect how empathic we will become."

Dr. Erickson shared four practical ways to teach your child empathy.

1. Show empathy toward your child, because children give what they receive.

2. Model empathy with others, since children will repeat what they see and hear.

3. Encourage empathy in your own everyday actions. For example, Dr. Erickson suggests asking, "How do you think he/she feels? What could you do to help them feel better?"

4. When reading to your child, stop to have the child imagine how the characters in the story are feeling. Dr. Erickson suggests asking questions like, “What do you think she will do now? Why? How do you think her friend will feel about that?”

Listen to more parenting discussions in the "Mom Enough" podcast.

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