Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, is one of the most important skills we can nurture in our children.
Empathy is the root of The Golden Rule, and gives children a guidepost for their behavior. A child or teen can check themselves and their behavior by simply asking themselves if the way they are treating another is a way in which they would like to be treated.
However, empathy doesn’t stop there. Chad Fowler in a Lifehacker.com blog post provides an easy-to understand list of why empathy is an important skill to develop. Fowler points out that empathy can help our children understand others around them, and empathy can make someone a better leader, follower and friend.
Perhaps the quickest pathway to nurturing empathy in our children is volunteering to help others. Whether through one-time projects like collecting canned goods for a local food bank or ongoing projects like monthly visits to a senior citizens center, there is a variety of opportunities for families to volunteer together.
“Volunteering can be an effective and important teaching tool for families who want to teach their children appreciation, empathy and community,” writes Angela Pittenger in the Arizona Daily Star.
Many experts and parents encourage families to start volunteering when their children are young – as early as pre-school age – to instill in them the importance of helping others and encourage them to help when and where they can.
Ways to Volunteer and Nurture Empathy
Parents Magazine shares this list of a few ways kids can help in their communities. There’s likely to be at least one of these opportunities in your community, too.
- Donate food to a food pantry. Have your child pick out one item each time you go to the store. When you get a bagful, take it to a local food pantry. To find a San Antonio Food Bank Pantry near you, click here.
- Walk to fight disease. Many organizations use walks to increase awareness and raise funds. Kids ages five and up can walk a few miles, and you can push little ones in a stroller. Fit City San Antonio is a great resource for walks in your area. Details can be found here.
- Put together activity boxes. If your child is a preschooler, decorate shoeboxes and fill them with a deck of cards, small games, and puzzle books for kids at the local hospital like Children’s Hospital San Antonio.
- Visit a nursing home. Your family can be matched with one person to call on regularly.
- Clean up. Pick up litter at a local park or while you take a walk in the neighborhood. (Wear gloves and supervise your children closely.)
- Deliver meals. You and your child can bring both hot food and companionship to homebound people through a local charity food service like Meals on Wheels.
- Share story time. Read your child's favorite books to children in the hospital. She can sit next to you and turn the pages.
- Be kind to animals. Volunteer to care for abandoned dogs or cats.
With an eye to the best for our kids,
Michele Autenrieth Brown is the director of development for Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950- NAMI (6264).