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.

Teaching Kids To Go the Extra Mile

Teaching Kids To Go the Extra Mile - Parenting Like Hannah
Babysitting kit for a pretty day

Remember the command in Matthew 5:41? You know – the one when if someone asks you for one piece of clothing or to walk a mile, you give them twice what they asked from you? I think if I ever heard any sermons on it, they revolved around helping others or being nice to our enemies. How often though do we teach our children to actually go the extra mile in everything they are asked to do?

Unfortunately, it has become politically incorrect and “uncool” to do your best. Anyone expecting the best from us is judgmental, demanding, and even divisive. If we go the extra mile and give more than is asked from us – whether it is in church, service, work or school – we can be labeled “teacher’s pet” or much uglier things. Yet, I don’t find Jesus putting any limitations on his commands in those surrounding verses. Clearly, God expects us and our children to go that “extra mile”.

So how can you encourage your children to do their best without turning them into anxious perfectionists or rebellious slackers in the process? I think we can train our children to go the extra mile while also teaching them how to set healthy boundaries. There are probably a lot of ways to do it, but here are a few we tried:

Continue reading Teaching Kids To Go the Extra Mile

Ways to Banish Greed From Your Child’s Life

Ways to Banish Greed from Your Child's Life - Parenting Like Hannah

Some time ago, I wrote this post about banishing greed. It has continued to be one of my most popular posts. As you prepare for the Christmas gift giving onslaught, here are some ideas to help you train your children to be a little less entitled.

Greedy children appear to concern a lot of people this time of year. It seems like everyone has a child with the “gimmes”, especially during the holidays. In fact, my daughter and I caught a segment where a “parenting expert” was counseling parents on how to “cure” their children. Her main advice was for parents to tell their children it was a recession and they couldn’t afford much.

My daughter snorted, “Then they’ll just wait until the economy is better and expect double presents!” She is right. There are a lot of ways to help your child take the focus off of what they can get, but giving them partial or incorrect information is not the best plan. Our daughter is incredibly responsible with money and always has a very reasonable and short “wish list”. In fact, she rarely has more than two or three items on her entire Christmas list.

Continue reading Ways to Banish Greed From Your Child’s Life

Re-Thinking How We Teach Kids to Give

Rethinking How We Teach Kids to Give - Parenting Like Hannah
Plastic Donuts by Jeff Anderson

Did you grow up in Church hearing about tithes or that you needed to give 10% of your income? Have you heard about something called the “prosperity gospel”or been told to give a lot to Church so God will give you a lot of things? Do you struggle with how much to give or if you should give based on your net or gross income? If we are confused about how to give to God, how are we going to teach the concept to our children?

Jeff Anderson has written a little book called Plastic Donuts. In it, he re-examines Biblical giving and applies it to today. What he found was interesting. In spite of much Church talk of a tithe, about half of the offerings commanded in the Old Testament were actually freewill offerings. Of course the obvious question is, “How much is that?”

Continue reading Re-Thinking How We Teach Kids to Give

A Generosity Activity for Kids

A Generosity Activity for Kids - Parenting Like HannahHave you ever seen a young child offer to share something and then cry when the person took them up on their offer? We may not cry when we give things to others, but sometimes there is a part of us that is calculating to make sure our generosity isn’t costing us too much.

Hopefully, we can train our children to give to others with open hands and open hearts. My friend Colleen recently shared with me a great activity she was doing with her son. She calls it the “Blessing Jar”.

Continue reading A Generosity Activity for Kids