How to Raise an Empathic, Caring Kid -- It's Harder Than it Used to Be

I was trying to convince my 7-year-old son that throwing a fit during a playdate was ruining the playdate for his friend. But he didn’t seem to care. (He really wanted to play Wii!) His behavior irked me more than usual because I had just read a new study that found that college kids today are less empathic than co-eds were in the 80’s and ‘90s. And not just by a smidgen.

"College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago,” said researcher Sara Konrath, in a press release. It made me wonder if I was contributing to raising the next generation of non-empathetic kids?

The researchers gave several possible explanations for the disappearing empathy. For one, these college students grew up with video games, and a strong body of research is showing that exposure to violent media can numb people to the pain of others. That might also include repetitive bouts of Law and Order, CSI and other TV programs centered around violence.

And then there’s the self-centered piece. The authors bemoan the “hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success borne of celebrity reality shows," which drives people to grab for themselves and not stop and listen to, or help, others along the way. So how to counter these social forces that our kids our bound to encounter as they get older? Here’s some advice from the Center for Child Well-Being:

  • Role-model compassion. Pay attention to your child’s feelings, acknowledge them and respond with warmth. You may want to test your own level of empathy here.
  • Talk about your feelings and those of others. And ask your child to talk about his or her feelings when something good or bad happens. Children who express their emotions freely and easily tend to be more empathic.
  • Try some “feelings” activities, like picking a feeling—a happy moment, an embarrassing one, a sad one—and ask each family member to discuss it. Or observe people and “guess” what their feelings might be.
  • When your child misbehaves, call attention to how it affects another person’s feelings. Ask the child how you think the other person (probably you) feels and what it would feel like to be in your shoes.
  • Praise your child like crazy when he is empathic.
  • Keep violent Wii games and other video games to a bare minimum.

Do you think your kids are empathic enough? Chime in below!

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