Great Activities For Raising Empathetic, Loving Children

Teaching Kids About Empathy - Parenting Like HannahYesterday, I shared how brain science helps explain the divisiveness and violence we have seen in our world over the last few months. There is a solution, and it really does start with you and your family. Teaching your children how to have godly empathy and love will make a huge difference. As a bonus, your kids can learn a lot and have fun in the process.

There are many things you can do. What you want to look for are activities that help decrease the emotional distance between you and people who you think are very different from you.

This is critically important though. These activities should never include compromising what God commands all people to do. Remind yourself and your children that Jesus said the only way to Heaven is through him and the Father. If we love others as much as we claim to love them, we will be passionate about talking to them (in ways they can hear) about what they need to do to spend eternity in Heaven.

So here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Ban referring to other people in derogatory and demeaning ways. You know we all do it without even thinking about it, because our four year olds thought “stupid” was a curse word and had a fit when we called someone stupid. You probably smiled and politely apologized at the time, but haven’t broken the habit. Calling people “idiots”, “crazy”, “insane” or a host of other ugly names widens that distance we want to narrow. Break the habit. Let your kids police you, because the adults in your house are probably the worst offenders. Your kids will love the opportunity to be the “boss” in this area and will be much more observant than you or your spouse would probably be.
  • Spend meaningful time with people who you think are very different from your family. I’m not talking about saying hello as you pass them on the street or sit next to them on the pew at church. I mean have coffee or a meal with them. Ask questions to discover the things you do have in common. Ask them what life was like for them as a child. Ask them about the most interesting thing that ever happened to them. If you are both Christian, work together planning and executing a project that serves others and share your faith with those you serve.
  • Teach your kids to ask questions that will help them find commonality instead of differences. The ironic thing about some empathy exercises is that they actually accomplish the opposite of what they claim to accomplish. While there is a place for learning about the differences, the focus always needs to be on finding connections – things we have in common. That’s why all of those books about breads or moms around the world leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling. We can all relate to bread and moms – the differences fade in comparison to the strong emotional ties we have to the idea of food and mom.
  • Encourage your kids to read age appropriate books about lives very different from their own. Not everyone can afford to travel with their children to experience life in other parts of the world or even their own country. Most have access to a public library, with plenty of great books explaining what life is like for someone else. Even though you and your kids may still disagree with the choices or conclusions the person made from their experience, it will help you understand why they made the choices they did.
  • Spend time regularly serving people who you think are very different from you and your children. In my experience, popping in and serving once has little long term impact on anything in the life of the person serving. Yet repeatedly returning to serve the same people – learning to love them for who they are, listening as they share the problems they face, seeing what happens in their world on a day to day basis will change you and your kids a lot. You will see problems are much more complicated than politicians or the media would have us believe. You will learn to love those people you once thought were as different from you as humanly possible. You will learn from them the things they can teach you – because everyone can teach us something. You will become passionate about them joining you in Heaven one day.
  • Ask people who your family perceives as different from you to teach you something. If they are from another country, maybe you want them to teach you how to cook a local food or play a unique folk instrument. Perhaps they can tell you what life was like for your grandparents or introduce you to some new authors or musicians or crafts. Everyone has something they can teach us (on a rare occasion the lesson may be a cautionary tale, but most people have more to give than we know). Being willing to learn from another person is a way of showing respect, an important part of building emotional bridges.
  • Invite people you think are very different from you to attend church with you. This should be a given, but sadly it is a rare Christian who invites anyone to church today – especially someone they think is very different from them. They may say “no” and they have that right. Let them know, you hope one day they will join you because you want them to learn about God and the love He has for them. If the person is already a Christian and attends a congregation that is another part of town or the world, consider attending church with them. There is something special about worshipping God together – even when it is in a language you barely understand – that makes that emotional distance totally disappear. Isn’t it amazing what God can do?

Christians can no longer bury their heads in the sand and allow the world to try and make things the way God intends them to be (or sadly often the opposite of what God intended). We need to begin stepping up and making a difference in godly ways. When your family begins showing everyone godly empathy and love, you may just be surprised what a positive difference you can begin making in the world – truly pointing people to God.

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NIV)