Fortunately, empathy is not a trait some are born with, and some not; everyone can practice and become good at understanding other people. Stepping into others’ shoes begins with simple awareness, and parents are in the perfect position to model that for their kids.
During the holidays, when your kids are around more than usual, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to model good behavior. So, keep in mind: The way you interact with the world shapes your children’s habits; if you’re attentive to other people, they will be, too.
Here’s how to develop empathy among the future entrepreneurs in your family:
1. Make empathy a family habit.
You are your kids’ first teacher: Be mindful of the lessons you impart. When they fight with their siblings or friends, teach them to look at the argument from the other person’s perspective. What might their brothers or sisters be feeling when they call them names or won’t share?
Do the same when you have conflicts with your spouse or relatives. If there’s a rift within the extended family, explain it to the kids while acknowledging the other side’s perspective.
2. Encourage emotional sharing.
Invite your kids to share not only what they’re feeling, but also why. Doing so builds emotional literacy and enables your children to communicate more effectively.
As kids grow into adults, they likely won’t be sharing their deep feelings at work (founder or otherwise), but they will be sharing their ideas. Workers who feel comfortable offering input and pitching ideas to their managers are 54 percent more engaged than those who feel that they can’t approach their bosses, according to a Gallup study. Empathy is crucial for developing a healthy work environment, so the sooner future leaders learn to exercise it, the better.
3. Teach your kids to read others’ body language.
Understanding body language is a core component of healthy interpersonal development, so look for opportunities to explain body cues to your kids. Use TV shows, movies and play-date interactions as teachable moments in this area.
Having company over is also a great time to practice paying attention to what people say through both their words and body language.
Organizational change expert Manfred Kets de Vries wrote, “Empathy enhances our ability to receive and process information and to find solutions.” Nothing could be more important to future entrepreneurs, and parents have the power to instill this skill at a young age.
Teaching children empathy now lays the foundation for a successful, enriching and emotionally rewarding future. The best part? All kids can learn it they just need someone to teach them.