Raising Empathetic Children

Exposing Teens to Fun Christians - Parenting Like HannahIf you have paid any attention to the news lately, you know our world is divided. If that weren’t bad enough, quite a few people are resorting to violence and even murder to try and “win” their arguments with others. It seems hopeless, but you and your family can begin making a difference.

Brain research discovered something very interesting and frightening at the same time. When we encounter someone new, there is a certain amount of initial emotional distance between us. Most of us will ask a few basic questions. Without realizing it, we are deciding whether the person is like us and a possible future friend.

If however, we determine through conversation or hearing about this person from someone else, that he or she is very different from us, the emotional space widens. That sounds like common sense, but here is where it gets scary. If that distance becomes too great our brains no longer recognize that person as human. In the language of Christians, our brains remove the soul of that person.

When our brains perceive someone as a soulless, non-human, it gives us permission to do all sorts of terrible things to that person. That’s why the Nazi’s were able to do things that were unspeakable to others – to them those people weren’t human. (That’s also why the military developed those wonderful, violent video games to train soldiers. It trained their brains to view people as video characters – not real people.)

When we allow our brains and the brains of our children to create that much distance between us and any other human being, we will be incapable of fulfilling what God commands us to do. How can we love our enemies, serve others and care passionately about sharing our faith and getting them to Heaven when we don’t even give them credit for being human and worth saving?

The great thing is there are a lot of interesting and even fun ways to stop the bad habit many in our world have developed of increasing that emotional distance. We can teach our kids how to be truly empathetic and love others the way God commands us to love them. Tomorrow, I will share with you some ideas of activities you can do that will not only help your family live the way God wants you to do, but also make a huge positive impact on the world around us for God.

In the meantime, spend some time today with your kids thinking about people in the Bible who had every reason to hate and destroy each other, but loved each other instead. Read the story of Jonathan and David. Jonathan, the crown prince, who knew he would never ascend to the throne because God had declared David the next King. In that time, Jonathan should have murdered David. Yet they became best friends. Or the Good Samaritan, who overlooked the prejudice of the Jews against him and helped a Jewish man in desperate need.

Talk about how God wants us to treat other people. Read scriptures about loving our enemies. Can your kids think of their own ideas of ways to bridge the gap? Do we have to deny or hide what God commands of every person alive in order to love people? The older your kids are, the more interesting and spiritual growth producing your conversations can be. Then check back tomorrow and try some of the activities. I would love to hear what your family decides to do and how it is received by others!

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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