Top Tips for Raising Empathetic Kids

“You just shouldn’t treat people that way,” the clerk muttered as I stepped up to the desk. I asked if the previous customer had been rude to her. “No,” she replied, “It was a co-worker who chose to assume the worst about me and never considered it might not be true. Not to mention, she was really ugly to me in the process. My feelings were of no concern to her.”

I could feel her pain. I had been through a similar experience recently. Why do people always seem to assign the worst possible motives to others – even if there is no evidence that was indeed their motive? Why do they believe they don’t need the full story before rushing to judgment? Why do they feel justified in whatever they choose to say or do if someone has made them unhappy in some way?

The truth lies in empathy, love and forgiveness – three character traits modeled perfectly by Jesus during his life on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t always model Jesus as closely as we could in those attributes. Let’s be honest, it can feel a little good to unload all of your frustrations about life onto someone who you believe has wronged you. They become symbolic of everyone who has ever hurt you.

Sadly, we pass our poor attitudes and behaviors on to our children We may not actively tell them to forget about empathy, love and forgiveness. If they see us do it frequently, however, they learn that lesson well.

How can we teach our kids to be more like Jesus? In many ways it starts with empathy – the ability to understand how others feel in a situation. It’s what Jesus modeled in the feeding of the 4000 and many other times in his ministry. Teaching your kids to be empathetic begins with all of you remembering and practicing some empathy basics.

  • Empathy takes intentionality. To be empathetic, you have to be able to consistently take a breath before speaking, acting or judging and try to understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling and why. That doesn’t happen by accident. You and your kids will have to be intentional about making this pausing and reflection a habit.
  • Empathy can mean asking respectful questions. Sometimes the situation is so complex, we can’t begin to easily put ourselves “in their shoes”. Asking respectful questions can help. “Can you help me understand what happened to help you come to that conclusion?” is usually more productive than just assuming the worst.
  • Empathy isn’t about judgment. Just because I can understand and have empathy for the brokenness that has encouraged someone to become an addict, doesn’t mean I approve of their choices. It does, however, remind me of the love God wants me to have for them and the passion I should have for helping them be who God wants them to be.
  • Empathy and sympathy are different. Sympathy can be a bit condescending. It can give others the impression that we have the attitude we are somehow better than the other person. Empathy is trying to understand the other person as well as we possibly can. This understanding can build bridges between people who might be enemies under other circumstances.
  • Empathy acts in loving ways. Yes, at times that may be “tough love”, but that can also be done in ways that are kind, patient, self-controlled, and all of those attributes found in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit.
  • Empathy starts by assuming the best. Most people don’t wake up in the morning plotting ways to ruin your day. People are tired, overwhelmed and make poor choices. That doesn’t mean they are at heart hateful, heartless or anything else your mind wants to immediately label them. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best and see what happens. If you give most people a chance, you will see the good in them. Make it a family habit to look for the good in everyone, rather than acting like professional critics.
  • Empathy is forgiving – as often as it takes. Forgiveness is not saying you agree with those choices. It is giving them the chance to start fresh with you. How many times? The Bible says 70 times 7…indicating that we just need to start with forgiveness and not wait to be begged into it by the “guilty” party.

Empathy isn’t easy at times. In the next post, I will share some fun things you can do to help your kids become more empathetic.

Why Your Child With Special Needs Has An Important Place in God’s Kingdom

Why Your Child With Special Needs Has An Important Place in God's Kingdom - Parenting Like HannahAs a child, one of my favorite stories in the Bible was Mephibosheth. There was something fascinating to me about the idea of David honoring a promise to his friend Jonathan. In a time when David would have been considered justified to have killed Mephibosheth as a member of his “opposition”, he basically made Mephibosheth a member of his family. Oh, there were a few hiccups later, but they had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Mephibosheth had special needs.

Continue reading Why Your Child With Special Needs Has An Important Place in God’s Kingdom

Tips For Teaching Your Child With Special Needs About God at Home

Tips For Teaching Your Child With Special Needs About God at Home - Parenting Like HannahFull confession here. I have not parented a child with special needs. In my training as an educator and over the years, I have worked with quite a few children with a variety of special needs from mild to profound. The other day, I was talking with a friend of mine who is an expert in special needs education. She has helped children with profound special needs accomplish amazing things for years.

We were talking about an opportunity I have in a few months to work with orphans who have special needs at an orphanage in another country. As we talked about the best way to share the Bible with these young men who have some very serious mental and physical disabilities, I noticed the things we were discussing could also be done by a parent at home.

Please don’t take this as a lecture meant to induce some sort of guilt. I know you are probably overwhelmed with the care, therapies and education of your child. The idea of adding something else may be too much and I believe God knows your situation and your heart.

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Fun Activity to Teach Preschoolers About Empathy

Fun Activity to Teach Preschoolers About Empathy - Parenting Like HannahEver watched two toddlers play “together”? If you have, you have probably seen a child come and basically grab another child’s toy without asking. What happens next is rarely pretty! The child who took the toy needs to learn more about sharing, but that same child also lacked empathy.

We don’t realize it, but empathy is a skill that must be taught. Your children will eventually pick up some empathy training from watching you (If you are consistently empathetic.). To raise children who are the Christians that defend and serve others while effectively sharing their faith though, they need to be empathetic more than the average person. That amount of skill requires some intentional teaching.

There is a fun game you can play with young children to help develop these skills. All you need are things you may already have around the house. First print or draw simple faces expressing emotions. For young children, you want to stick to the basics – happy, sad, mad, excited, scared, loved and possibly confused.

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Christian Parenting and Special Needs

Christian Parenting and Special Needs - Parenting Like HannahOne of my loves in education is working with children who have special needs. To me, it is pure joy to help these children find ways to reach their godly potential. In fact, one of my personal challenges is finding ways to help parents and churches not underestimate what children and adults with special needs are capable of spiritually. I also want to find more ways to help them share their gifts with the church.

Needless to say, I was interested when offered an opportunity to review the book No Greatness Without Goodness by Randy Lewis. Lewis is a retired Senior Vice President for the drugstore chain Walgreens. His middle child, a son, was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

The book is about Lewis’ journey as a parent of a child with special needs, but more importantly how he was able to open his own eyes and those of an entire corporation. Lewis pioneered a program at Walgreen’s to hire a significant number of people with special needs – at first in Walgreen’s distribution centers and later throughout the company.

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