Have you ever heard of the saying, “Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” My mum used to say this to me when I was criticizing someone.  You see, I think this quote is really all about empathy. So, what is empathy? Empathy is the ability to be aware of the feelings of others and imagine what it might be like to be in their position (or in their shoes as my mum says).

It’s experiencing for yourself what it is they are going through, with such clarity that you can understand what they are thinking and feeling. Empathy I believe is a key ingredient in all positive relationships. It also reduces conflict and misunderstandings.

Here’s a story I found online that describes empathy so well.

What’s Prettier Than Freckles Source Stories About Empathy – Character Education

An elderly woman and her little grandson, whose face was sprinkled with bright freckles, spent the day at the zoo.  Lots of children were waiting in line to get their cheeks painted by a local artist who was decorating them with tiger paws.

“You’ve got so many freckles, there’s no place to paint!”, a girl in the line said to the little fella.

Embarrassed, the little boy dropped his head. His grandmother knelt down next to him. “I love your freckles. When I was a little girl I always wanted freckles,” she said, while tracing her finger across the child’s cheek.

 “Freckles are beautiful.” The boy looked up, “Really?” “Of course,” said the grandmother.  “Why just name me one thing that’s prettier than freckles.”

The little boy thought for a moment, peered intensely into his grandma’s face and softly whispered, “Wrinkles.     

Any time you want to teach a new skill to a child, it’s important to model it yourself, which is what this grandmother did so beautifully. This way, the child understands what empathy looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Plus, it’s easier to teach a skill that you’ve already mastered yourself.

Some personality styles practice empathy naturally, and for some, empathy is a quality they need to develop more of. In the DISC Behavioral Model, there are four Primary Personality Styles – the D, I, S and C Styles. You see, because the I and S Styles like to focus on people, empathy comes naturally to them. These two styles value relationships and in my opinion, tend to come more from the heart, not the head, when interacting with people. 

Whereas the D and C Styles like to focus on tasks, so empathy is a quality that is often underdeveloped in them. It’s not that they can’t be empathetic. It’s just that the D Style is often busy focusing on controlling the task, and the C Style is focusing on the details of the tasks. These two styles also see their environment as unfavorable, especially the D’s, that’s why they need to be in control at all costs. And if they’re under stress they become augmentative and will dictate.  

Empathy isn’t just the engine for closeness and prosocial behavior; it also puts on the brakes when we are behaving badly towards other styles. 

So, it’s important to understand which Primary Style you are, so that you know how to adapt your approach with people when being empathetic.  It’s all about making a conscious choice to shift your behavior, and adapt the way you communicate.

Here are some tips for developing empathy within yourself and for teaching your child how to practice empathy:

Tip 1

Learn what DISC style you are, so that you know how to adapt when you need to show empathy. Also learn what DISC style your child is, so that you know how to interact and communicate to the needs and emotions of their style, when developing empathy within their character. I have a great E-book that teaches you all about the DISC Styles. It includes a Mini-Me Survey for you to take that will identify yours and your child’s Primary DISC Style. Click on this link to grab it now:

Excuse Me Your Personality is Showing E-BooK     

Tip 2

What does it take to become more empathetic? As I’ve mentioned previously empathy is about being able to experience for yourself what it is a person is going through, with such clarity that you can understand what they are thinking and feeling. Move from your head to your heart when doing this. If you’re in your head – as the C Style often is, these styles will try to analyse what’s going on for the other person.   

Also resist the temptation to try and fix what they are feeling, for example, if they are sad, angry or frustrated. Show compassion by letting go of judgments, and ask open questions starting with “What” and “How” to gain understanding of what’s happening for them. 

When teaching your child to be compassionate, find those teachable moments when you see them showing compassion, and acknowledge them for it.  For example, you see your child is sitting close to one of their friends, and they have noticed they are sad or hurting. You hear them say to their friend, that they are there for them and they are not alone, and your child is also actively listening to them.  

When acknowledging all you need to say is, “I see you were showing compassion, when you understood your friend was hurting, and you said to them that you are there for them, well done”. And you can also say after that, “Now that’s also how you practice empathy”. If the child is young keep it simple. You want them to understand that when they are demonstrating a certain behavior or communicating in a certain way, they are being empathetic and compassionate.  

Tip 3

You can be sympathetic to someone’s situation while being completely clueless about their feelings and thoughts. Empathy involves identifying with what someone is feeling and, additionally, actually feeling those feelings yourself.” Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy involves feeling with them.

Remember to model empathy even when you’re upset with or giving consequences to your child. This reinforces the idea that empathy can and should be used even when you’re feeling disappointed, hurt, or angry. The more children receive empathy, the more likely they are to offer it to others.

Leave a comment if you have found these tips of value. For more of them and for resources to develop Character in your children join my Facebook Group here: Parents with Teens, Tweens and anything in Between