Teaching Empathy

  • Share:
-Hi, you're watching Teachable Moments on Parents TV. I'm parenting expert Denise Daniels. And as a parent, have you ever watched with amazement as your preschooler comforted a playmate in distress? Well, research shows that this is called empathy behavior. Joining us today is Dr. Marc Brackett who's the deputy director of health, emotion, and behavior laboratory at Yale University. He's going to show us how to raise empathetic and caring kids. Thanks for joining us today, Marc. -You're welcome. -I just heard a staggering statistic that 30% of children entering kindergarten lack the social and emotional skills to be successful. What do you think about that? -Well, it's saying that we need to get started in teaching these kids how to become more socially and emotionally skilled. -Tell us what empathy is. -So, generally, empathy is a simple definition. It's just the ability to experience what another child's emotion is. So, the idea would be if I'm feeling distressed, that child would also understand that feeling and experience the same feeling. -Do you think that comes naturally for children? -Well, it doesn't. It doesn't. So, there is very interesting research that looks at like the genetic link for empathy. So, how much is inheritable. And for example, in studies with identical twins, so children, you know, who come from the same egg-- -Uh-huh. -who share 100% of their genetics, they then to-- when they're measured further, empathy tend to have highly correlated scores on measure of empathy whereas fraternal twins, twins who are completely separate, just like any brother and sister, actually, they're is no correlation. So, it is showing there is some genetics to it. -So, emotions are a child's first language, how do you recommend beginning to teach children about empathy and at what age do you feel that parents should really begin teaching these skills? -Uh-huh. -Well, because it involves the idea of experiencing another child's emotions, it's not something that can really be taught very early on. You need language skills. You need a little bit of self-concept sort of like who am I. So, we generally recommend that we teach around 2 years old or a little bit before 2 years. -Now, when you say modeling, explain what that is. That's-- -It means demonstrating the behaviors that you want the children to do. So, for example, let's say you wanted to teach your child a little bit about sadness and about what it means to feel someone else's sadness. You might use a character in a book or you might use a character in the television show that they're watching who has been sad. And you might ask them to think about that character and say remember how this character felt when-- -Uh-huh. -when she was crying, when he was crying and remember how the body looked and all that to get the child to sort of understand what it means to feel that emotion. -And can you also say how did you feel when the child took your toy-- -Exactly. so that they're actually internalizing what that feels like as well? -That will be great. So, you make both those connections -Mark, can you tell us what some of those skills are to teach empathy? -Sure. Well, remember what I said, which was that empathy is about having the ability to experience another person's emotions or a child to experience another person's feelings? -Yes. -So, in order to be able to do that, you have-- they're a lot of underlying skills and that's the research that I do, is to look at what are those skills that make children empathic. So, one of those is to be able to read people's faces because if you're gonna be able to experience someone else's emotion, you've gotta detect it first. -So, it's kind of like looking at somebody's nonverbals? -Exactly. -Uh-huh. -Looking at their face expression. Are they happy? Are they sad? Are they angry? Are they afraid? And be able to just detect that information. The second is understanding it. Knowing why. What is the reason behind it? Because you wanna be able to relate to that person. And if you know why they're feeling the way they're feeling and are explained that particularly for children, you're gonna have a much more deeper understanding and be able to build more empathy skills. And then the other component is regulation. You wanna-- The ultimate form of empathy is helping other children to feel better. So, if you know-- if you have the ability to learn strategies or have learned strategies to help other children calm down, or feel safe, or feel welcome, then in our view that's sort of the highest level of empathy. -Do you see any gender relationship to this? Male or female. Is it easier to teach young boys or young girls or-- Well, there's a lot of sort of fallacies, you know, false beliefs about that. So, the gender difference has emerged as we get older, and older, and older as you can imagine. The reason is mostly due to parenting styles. -Yes. -You know, the traditional boys don't cry and it's okay if you cry to the girl and so a lot of our work with parents is teaching them to model the same behaviors, use the same feeling words to their male children and their female children so that they grow up both having the skills. -Thanks very much for being with us today, Marc. It was great information. We wanna hear your questions and ideas. You can e-mail us at Thanks for watching Parents TV, your source for the best information for your growing family. -Hi, I'm Juli Auclair. I hope you enjoyed the segment on Parents TV. We have so much more available now that you're gonna love and keep coming back. There are new topics added often with information that will help you through parenthood. Coming soon, we'll feature your children and answer your questions about parenting. If you wanna be part of Parents TV, send your questions, comments, or videos to Parents TV 375 Lexington Avenue LX 726 New York, NY 10017. Make sure you include your name and contact information. And remember, if you send pictures or videos, we cannot return them. We're looking forward to hearing from you and giving you a voice on Parents TV, your source for the best information for your growing family. -Thank you for watching Parents TV, our families our lives.