Teaching Empathy to Young Children

Teaching Empathy to Young Children - Parenting Like HannahEmpathy is often thought of as the ability to imagine life from the perspective of someone else. Yet for a Christian, empathy needs to be so much more. You see, the Bible tells us over and over again not to just imagine what life is like for others, but to do what we can to reflect God’s love to them, serve them and point them towards God.

The earlier children are exposed to the ideas of empathy and serving, the easier it is for those ideas to become a part of the very fabric of who they are. Parents often begin the process of teaching empathy quite naturally. You have probably  told your young child to “be gentle” because if they are not it hurts the other person. Or you may have told him not to “be mean” and hurt another child’s feelings.

What can you do for more complex ideas? How can you explain autism or Alzheimer’s to a very young child? How can they understand what life is like for a little person or someone whose home was destroyed in a fire? For very young children, the answer can often start with a picture book.

Picture books are great ways to begin to introduce complex ideas. The words are simple and the pages are filled with pictures that help your child visualize what is happening in the story more accurately. (I am in the process of creating a list of empathy building picture books, but I will give you a few I have found so far at the end of this post.)

Once you have read the book together, talk about what happened. How did the people in the story feel? What makes your child think they felt that way? Why did each person feel the way they did? Did some people change during the story? How?

If your child is more mature, you may start introducing the idea of what they might feel like if they were that person. What would their day be like? Would they interact with their friends differently than they do now? What challenges would they face? What would make them happy?

Once your child has practiced with picture books, introduce the stories in the Bible as empathy building stories. How do your children think the lepers felt? What was it like to be the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda? Why did Namaan act the way he did? How did Jesus or the people of the day treat the people who were struggling with something?

Once you have read and discussed a book or Bible story, you are ready to begin tackling the second part of empathy – acting on the knowledge your child now has. Do you know someone who has the same issues as the person in the book? Is there an organization that serves the people in the book? Does your church help people with similar issues? Find a way, to meet someone like the person in the book you read and discover a way you and your child can make a positive difference in his life.

If the person asks you why you want to meet her and why you want to help, share how you want your child to learn how to reflect God’s love accurately to everyone. You may be surprised to learn the people you have come to help also have a lot to teach you and your child about love.

Want to start the picture book empathy project? Here are a few books I found that you and your child might enjoy:

My Brother Charlie – autism

Great-Uncle Alfred Forgets – Alzheimer’s

Alex Is My Friend – little people

Rainbow Joe And Me Rainbow Joe And Me – blindness

A Chair for My Mother 25th Anniversary Edition (Reading Rainbow Books) – fire victims

Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan  – Lost Boys of Sudan

If you have found other picture books you and your children have enjoyed and which helped them develop empathy, I would love for you to leave a comment with the name of the book and the author. It may help others create an empathy library.

Parenting and the Excuse Whisperer

Parenting and the Excuse Whisperer - Parenting Like HannahHave you ever met a person who is trying to break a bad habit? Many times they have attempted more than once – usually with minimal success. If you talk to them long enough, you will often hear a lot of excuses for why they can’t break the habit they know is only harming them.

Excuses go all the way back to the beginning and the Garden of Eden. When God asked Adam and Eve about what they had done, the excuses started flying. They sounded a lot like what you may have heard many times in your own home – “She made me do it”. “It was his fault”. The source of ideas for all of those excuses was Satan – the great excuse whisperer.

There are two problems with excuses and parenting. The first I hope is obvious. All of those excuses we have for not parenting our children the way we know God would want us to do come from the same source as Adam and Eve’s excuses. We are often more willing to listen to Satan’s lies than God’s truths. Why? Because Satan knows how to push our buttons and make us think the wrong way is easier, more popular or “smarter”.

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Kids, Joy and God

Kids, Joy and God - Parenting Like HannahHave your ever surprised a young child with something they have wanted their “whole life”? If you have, you have probably witnessed pure, unsurpassed joy. In fact for many children, childhood is a time filled with joy. As time passes however, the joy seems to slowly seep out of life for many people and is replaced by what the French call ennui – fancy boredom.

The Christian life for many has a similar trajectory. The moments after a person puts on Christ in baptism and becomes a Christian are often very joyful. Soon the monotony of life intrudes though and Christianity can begin looking boring or worse yet, restrictive.

I want to encourage you to not only live a joyful Christian life, but help your children find and understand the joy in living a godly, active Christian life. There are a lot of things Christians can be joyful about, but in case you were puzzling what to share with your kids about joy and God, here are some of my favorites:

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Questions to Get Your Kids Talking

Questions to Get Your Kids Talking - Parenting Like HannahOne of the top mysteries for many parents is how to get their kids to talk to them. Oh, their kids are respectful enough to answer questions when asked. It’s just that the vast majority of the answers are one word or perhaps even a grunt. Some parents just give up and hope their kids will eventually grow up to be adults who have wonderful conversations with their parents.

To be effective as a Christian parent though, you have to know what your child is not only thinking, but also what he is holding in his heart. You can try to discipline behaviors and guess at any potential heart or faith issues. Honestly though, the best way to really help your child grow in his faith and develop a godly heart is for him to share with you what he is thinking. Which brings us back to the original problem.

Fortunately, there are ways to get your children to talk to you. Even about the important things in life. There are certain types of questions that are more likely to get your child talking than others. Before I share them though, you need to keep a few things in mind.

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Teaching Kids to Make Good Choices

Teaching Kids to Make Good Choices - Parenting Like HannahLife is full of choices. Lots and lots of choices. Some of them are insignificant and there really isn’t a good or bad choice. Other choices can change the path a life takes for years to come. As parents, one of our biggest challenges is teaching our children how to make consistently good, godly choices.

Unless you become intentional about teaching your children how to make good choices, they will most likely go one of two ways. They will either copy whatever you currently do when you are faced with a choice or they will figure it out on their own – possibly by making decisions based on feelings or some other potentially unreliable method.

Jeff Shinabarger’s new book Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Shape Your Life can give you a framework for teaching your children the essentials of making good (and hopefully godly) decisions.

Shinabarger realizes some decisions are easy and have few consequences, The focus of this book is helping people know how to make decisions when they are confusing, difficult or have life-changing consequences. He divides the twelve chapters into three major sections – choosing decision making, your philosophy of choice and the decision making process. Each chapter ends with discussion questions if you want to read and discuss the book with others.

Shinabarger doesn’t necessarily introduce any radical new ideas into the decision making process. What he does is often take his personal journey with the non-profit Plywood People and show how his suggestions work in real life situations. His ideas are solid and provide a good framework for teaching a child or anyone else how to consistently make better decisions.

While this book is not what I would call a Bible study, Shinabarger does interject his Christian beliefs from time to time. Probably not enough for those wanting scriptures for every principle, but enough to make seekers know he believes God is an important part of the process.

My favorite part of the book was actually his discussion of problem solvers. I had never quite looked at leadership in that way, but what he said fit what I have experienced over the years. He emphasizes the need our world has for Christians who are willing to make the tough decisions and attempt to solve the world’s problems.

Although I wish Shinabarger had written more strongly about the importance of including God in the decision making process, this is basically a strong book on decision making with a Christian slant. While I personally would not use it in a Bible study, it can help provide a framework for skills you may want to teach your children to help them make good decisions. Personally, I am keeping it on my shelf for his quotes and thoughts on our responsibility to make the hard decisions to change the world.



A copy of this book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review.