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Why empathy is not the same as sympathy and how to teach it to children

Why empathy is not the same as sympathy and how to teach it to children


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Empathy is one of the most difficult values ​​to teach children but also one of the most important. Empathy ends bullying, differences, and disrespect.

If we really learned to be empathetic from childhood, there would be far fewer injustices. However, not only is it not easy to learn, but we also often confuse it with being nice. We explain why empathy is not the same as sympathy and how to teach it to children.

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the last sixteen years of her life studying courage, shame, vulnerability, and empathy. On these topics he has written several best sellers.

Dr. Brown talks a lot about how to cultivate empathy and how parents can convey this value to our children without confusing it with sympathy. According to her, empathy consists of:

- The ability to take another person's perspective.

- Do not make judgments of others.

- Recognize the emotion in others.

- Communicate that emotion.

Empathy is not a learning found in textbooks, in families it is not given due importance many times, and yet it is one of the most important qualities to develop in children. Dr. Brown says that teaching children empathy is not the same as teaching sympathy. Being nice to someone is not the same as being empathetic. They are different qualities, she explains it like this: "empathy feeds connection while sympathy feeds disconnection". What does this mean? Why is empathy not the same as sympathy?

To clarify it, he gives several examples, one of them consists of imagining someone trapped in a hole in the ground, so deep that he cannot get out of it. From below, look up and ask for help. How does the child who feels empathy react and how does the one who feels sympathy?

- The child with empathy will go down to the hole, talk to the other person and tell him that he understands how he feels in that dark place, and he will also remind him that he is not alone.

- The child with sympathy will not go down to the hole, he will lean into it and from above he will ask if he needs something but he never comes close, to offer his help or comfort.

To the child or adult who is not empathetic but does act sympathetically, According to Dr Brown, he is also recognized because he begins his sentences with "At least ...":

- "I'm sad because I failed math."

- "At least you passed language."

The child or adult who is empathetic may not have an answer to the problem of the other child or the other person, but at least he connects with her, transmits that he will be by his side and appreciates the trust that the other person placed when telling their problems. Because we may not have a solution for what happens to him, perhaps there is no possible answer, but what can improve the situation is that the other person feels that connection with us.

That is why we must teach our children well what empathy is and how to put it into practice, and we must never confuse it with sympathy because it distances us from others. And how to do it? We can start by asking them 3 questions when the child has hurt someone or sees another child having a bad time:

1. How do you think that child feels?

2. How would you feel if you were him right now?

3. Can you do something to help him?

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