7 Ways to Teach Empathy and Prevent Bullying

Discover how teaching empathy can prevent bullying


Every parent wants her child to be kind. But when it comes to kindness, it’s important to go beyond asking your child to do nice things for other people.  In fact, kindness is an action that is motivated by feelings of empathy, the central component of emotional intelligence.

And if taught correctly, empathy can go a long way in preventing bullying. What’s more, studies show that kids who are empathetic have better relationships and perform better in school.

Here are seven ways you can teach your child empathy.

Make sure your child’s emotional needs are met. It is very difficult for children to treat others kindly if they do not feel loved. Everyone knows that one of the reasons that kids bully others is that they don’t feel good about themselves. Parents cannot expect their kids to be loving and kind to others if they are not being treated with love and kindness. This is especially true for victims of bullying or victims of sibling bullying. Even well meaning parents can make mistakes when it comes to emotional needs. For instance, demanding perfect grades, expecting athletic excellence or even pushing your child to be popular can make a child feel inadequate and lead to bullying behavior. Instead, celebrate who your child is, his hard work and his accomplishments and work to guide him toward better behaviors. Also strive to impart resilience, self-esteem, social skills and assertiveness.

Ensure kids can identify and share their feelings. When kids understand how they feel and can name their feelings, they are better equipped to identify similar feelings in other people. Also allow your kids the opportunity to express their feelings, even the negative ones. For instance, encourage your child to tell you when he is angry, sad or frustrated and engage him in a conversation.

The goal is that your child learns to communicate his feelings in a healthy way without tantrums, violence or bullying.

Encourage kids to explore other perspectives. You are giving your kids an important life skill when they are able to look at a situation and understand how it might be experienced from another person’s point of view. For instance, ask your child how pushing a shopping cart might be more challenging for a senior citizen? What about for a mom of three? Kids who are skilled at perspective taking tend to have higher emotional intelligence. They also tend to be more successful because they are able to examine problems from all points of view. This skill is also beneficial in bullying prevention. Kids who can look at things from a different perspective might better understand how the special needs student, the gifted student and the food-allergic student feels in different situations. What’s more, each of these student groups are frequently bullied. But if kids are able to understand life from their perspective, they are less likely to target them.

Model empathy using everyday opportunities. Be sure you are modeling empathy. Talk to your kids about how another person might be feeling and why you did what you did. For instance, why did you cook dinner for your neighbor or clean your parents’ home? Be sure your kids see you doing these things and know why you are doing them. Look for everyday examples too. Whether it is a television program, a story in a book or a real life situation talk to your kids about how another person might be feeling in any given scenario. Then, engage your kids by asking for their thoughts and opinions. When kids are able to recognize situations where others might be feeling sad or hurt, they will be better equipped to know what to do when they witness bullying. They also will be less likely to engage in hurtful behaviors like relational aggression, name-calling and mean girl behaviors.

Teach kids to find common ground with others. Research shows that kids are more likely to feel empathetic toward someone if they can relate with how a person might be feeling. So if your kids have lost a grandparent or a pet, they might be more empathetic toward a classmate going through a similar situation. Likewise, if your child has been bullied or cyberbullied, they are more likely to know how another victim might feel. And there is a sense of empowerment that comes when kids can turn something that happened to them into something positive.

Encourage kids to imagine how someone else feels. Knowing how someone else might feel in any given situation is what being empathetic is all about. Look for opportunities where you can discuss with your kids how another person might be feeling. While it is important to share your thoughts, be sure you are allowing your child to talk too. Ask open-ended questions like, “What did you see?” and “What would you want someone to do if you were in that situation?” When kids take the time to stop and think about how something might make another person feel they are more likely to take a stand or get help for someone who is being bullied.

Talk to kids about how their behavior impacts others. Whether your child is a bully, spreads rumors and gossip or just struggles to be kind, it is important that you talk to your child about the consequences of his behavior. It’s also important to be sure your child thinks about others before making decisions. Even something as simple as posting a picture to social media can impact others in ways your child may not realize. For instance, your child may post pictures from a party without realizing that friends who weren’t invited to the party might be hurt.

Remember, empathy or a high emotional intelligence, goes beyond just being nice. Empathetic children understand their feelings enough that they use them to make decisions, understand others, manage stress and relate to others. And when parents strive to impart empathy, they are not only preventing bullying behaviors but they also are preparing their kids for success in life.

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