Empathy: 6 fun ways to model empathy to your kids

In Feeling

From the German einfühlung, translated from the Greek empatheia, meaning "in emotion."  Being able to walk in someone else's shoes and feel their emotions, empathy, is one of our many innate senses.   Empathy powerfully demonstrates Universal Resonance, that we are rooted in One Mind, One Thought, One Life, One Collective Consciousness. In the photo above of the father and daughter, we sense and relish in the warmth of the captured moment.  A smile spreads across our face.  We may then, carry that emotion, evoked by this photo into our next conversation or interaction.  It moves us, physically, emotionally and creatively. That makes empathy a second, sacral chakra power.

Yet, for some of us, empathy, especially when suffering or pain is evoked, can be all consuming, even to the point that we are not sure whose feelings we are feeling. For others it is elusive.  As parents and mentors, how best do we model using this superpower for the greatest good, especially when we find it overwhelming or intangible?

Through play!

Affirmation: This too is God
Chakra engaged: sacral

Activity 1: Read your child fairy tales

All stories engage our empathetic nature, but some are better than others at engaging the imagination and strengthening the sense of goodness, fairness and trust in the world.  For young children, it's important that the hero wins and that the feelings evoked along the journey are matched with an expected, positive outcome.  This sets the stage for positive outlook, expectancy and outcomes in life.  Clearly defined heroes and villains supports, expresses and validates the child's inherent, internal values of good and bad, right and wrong.  Many of the Grimm-collected stories from Germany are excellent to read early on in your child's life.  Do not feel you need to edit the dark or difficult elements of a story, such as the witch in Hansel and Gretel getting burned in the oven, for instance.  Instead, trust in the story to feed and nurture the soul qualities of the child. At the same time, as the reader, do not charge the story through a tonal or feeling quality that convey your own emotion or interpretation.  Let the story be the canvas upon which your child projects their personality.

Storynory.com has many Grimm's tales available for free listening.  This week, I invite you to follow the link to listen together to the Town Musicians of Bremen by Storynory.  See how easy and natural it is to empathize with these old, ill-used farm animals even for someone who is young and never abused.  There is also a satisfying and delightful ending for their troubles.

Activity 2: Act it Out

Now, integrate and embody the story of The Town Musicians of Bremen through acting.  Acting quickly moves us into the feeling nature of another.   We create their gestures, posture, accent, diction, words and even thoughts based on their perspective.  This also frees and liberates us temporarily from living our own story and in a subtle and powerful way, allows us to see our own life as just one of the stories to choose from.  Put on a family show, remembering that in order to perform, there also needs to be an audience.  Even just one person to serve as the audience is enough.  Feel free to have stuffed animals step in as characters.  Notice what it feels like to be the robber and how that role can express just as easily as the hero.

Another engaging and always popular game to exercise empathy is animal charades.  This kind of acting has a different quality than story acting because you take on the qualities of being that animal, which is more of a physical sensation of movement, heart, and rhythm rather than a mental one.  You move into a state of oneness with your animal, which is always a satisfying sensation.

Activity 3 : Play the villain

This activity would appeal to the older child, but certainly is valuable for all ages.  Take a story or fairy tale and have your child tell it from the villains perspective.  Flesh out those shallow, stock villainous characters and their backstory.  Why are there robbers in the house on the road to Bremen?  What made them robbers?

The author, Gregory Macguire, has made a career of this type of storytelling.  His books, great for adults but not recommended here for a young audience, like Wicked about the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz, the Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, about one of Cinderella's sisters, or Mirror, mirror about the evil queen in Snow White are great examples.  Also, the movie, again too mature for young ones, Maleficent, is the story of the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty.  In a sense, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, which I do recommend highly for young children, is also about a character that is a villain in our cultural lexicon, the spider.  It is probably because of this book alone that people love orb-weaver spiders.

Another spin on this activity is to have your child pick an "unappealing" or despised animal to tell a story about, like a snake, rat, fly maggot, slug, black-widow spider, mosquito or cockroach (so many to choose from!).  Give the character the universal wishes and desires for love, happiness, food, comfort, safety, long life, family and babies and see what not only is created in story form but what space is created in the heart for this animal in response to this new perspective.

Activity 4: Affirmative Prayer

The quickest way to enter into a state of non-judging, immersive empathy is to offer someone else affirmative prayer.  Prayer is so incredible for both the giver and the receiver because it allows the receiver to voice their issue or problem in a non-judgmental, safe place and it allows the giver to provide help, resolution, restoration and rebalance without being a problem solver.  But there is more, treatment allows for both to sink into the presence of Divine Mind, the realm of all possibilities, all potentialities, an ever-loving, ever supporting state of complete acceptance, love and recognition, free from contraction or constraint of any kind.

As a practitioner and minister intern, I often guide others in prayer.  I recognize each one is a gift to me and for me.  While it may sound as if I listen to people's problems all day, the opposite is actually true. By their prayer request and through prayer, I am released from that problem that also lives in me. Each applicant is my guide and teacher.  In my heart, I greet each person with Shivo Hum, Sanskrit for this too is God.

Practice affirmative prayer at home, using these simple steps:

  1. Recognition- There is only One, that One is God. God is everywhere and everything.
  2. Unification- God is also being me, living through me as me.
  3. Affirmation- I am loved and cherished deeply and can never be alone.  All events serve me and my highest good for the best possible outcome.  I am guided always on the right path.
  4. Release- With faith and trust and happiness, I turn this prayer over to my higher power and release any and all burden or heaviness from it.  I am free.
For more on affirmative prayer, see my post Affirmative Prayer With Kids.

Activity 5: Tracking

Kids are emotionally tracking their adults all the time, whether we like it or not.  Ever notice how your feelings are amplified in their presence?  When you are happy, loving and peaceful, they are and when you are angry and frustrated, fearful or bossy, they also are.  They match and emulate, not so much as a purposeful or mocking act, but because they are enmeshed, and in Oneness with you.

Tracking in this activity is applied in 2 ways, with both eliciting the same quality of empathy.

Play at tracking in nature by reading animal signs or following in an animal's footsteps.  When you are in the zone of tracking, you are single-minded and focused using all of your 54 senses. Humans have extraordinary, untapped powers for tracking wildlife.  This quality still lives in all of us.  On movie night, older children will enjoy and be inspired to track nature by this short, 7-minute video of expert trackers from the Kalahari (BBC, Life of Mammals with Sir David Attenborough).

Tracking is also a practice in communication. It draws on the exact skills as tracking in nature. If you play at and enjoy nature tracking, you will be good a tracking in communication. I just spent my second all-day Saturday learning Effective Communication, or Tracking, taught by the indefatigable and multi-talented Lee Garland and the Breakthrough Men's Community of Monterey.  This is the life work of Salwa Said, who recently left the physical body. I include it here as a tool for adults, so they can model healthy communication, or "how to get your needs met without yelling," as Lee would say, to your children.  The skill of tracking is empathy amplified, radical empathy, empathy on rocket fuel... something like that.  It is really the art of empathetic listening.

You begin with the viewpoint that you are receiving a gift. Even more powerful than Shivo Hum, this position releases you a priori from any defensive posture, and allows you to first and foremost be present and attentive to the situation and to feel what an honor it is to be entrusted with the presence, attention, and vulnerability of this other person (who is really you).  It is the posture of Kwan Yin, Lakshmi, or Mother Theresa. Try this posture the next time your child comes to you with their problem.  What a gift they are!

The next is to respond to their comments by tracking them.  Tracking is not solving, judging or dismissing.  Tracking is meeting, acknowledging and validating.  The art of this work is to put yourself in their position and see it from their viewpoint and to meet them where they are. Because of this there is no place for the words I, you, we, or ours. As Kwan Yin, their words, thoughts or emotions are not personal to you, nor attacking to you, cannot diminish you nor make you feel anything.You are a goddess!

Try it out. When I am tracking I drop into a state of deep empathy and deep connection. It feels 1000 times better than problem solving and advice-giving.

Tracking is a skill and for most of us requires practice.  I introduce here only as a concept and invite you to take a deeper dive into tracking as a skill in Effective Communication, through the many affordable, virtual opportunities offered at Breakthrough Men's Community of Monterey.

Activity 6: Shake it out

Release yourself from overwhelming emotion by shaking it out with Raffi's Shake My Sillies Out. Patting and shaking is a Qi Gong method for releasing energy.  The saying, "shake it off" really works to release yours and others emotions.  Dogs do it too.  Act it out!

Shake my sillies out
By Raffi

Gotta shake, shake, shake my sillies out
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out
And wiggle my waggles away

I gotta clap, clap, clap my crazies out
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out
And wiggle my waggles away

I gotta jump, jump, jump my jiggles out
Jump, jump, jump my jiggles out
Jump, jump, jump my jiggles out
And wiggle my waggles away

I gotta yawn, yawn, yawn my sleepies out
Yawn, yawn, yawn my sleepies out
Yawn, yawn, yawn my sleepies out
And wiggle my waggles away

More Supporting Reading on Empathy:

I dedicate this post to the memory and life work of Salwa Said.

Image credits

Images are sourced from Pixabay and free for commercial use

Father and daughter: StockSnap
Farm animals: TeeFarm
Slug: Maxime THIBAULT
Footprints: Juliane Koch


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