Other Life Lessons Blog #3: The one thing all kids need when they go back to school.

We’re not really summer people.

Sure, we love the idea of summer. We love long days, warm nights and afternoons by the pool. Ooh! Barbecues. Annnnd prosecco on the patio.

Okay, so we’re kinda-sorta summer people.

Until August hits and the heat (or, if you’re in Ontario, the HUMIDITY) feels like it drags on. Suddenly we’re craving scarves, lattes and cozy clothes. And in the blink of an eye, we’re packing up the kids with everything they need: the new backpack, lunch bag, name stickers, and clothes. We’re carefully checking off our lists of essentials.

But there’s something missing.

Of all the must-haves, there’s one thing we want our little ones to take into their classes this year: a sense of empathy.

Empathy can be a difficult concept for anyone (especially when that anyone is only 4 years old). But more and more we’ve realized that when we explain things in a straightforward, honest way they get it. People often assume that kids are too young to learn certain things, that it’s “too much” for their little minds. But damn, are kids ever smart. They can absorb a concept, they’ll ask questions and they remember (meanwhile, we’ll go upstairs at least three times before we remember WHY we were going upstairs in the first place). 

Here are a few of our top tips for introducing empathy to your little one: 

  1. Talk about feelings and emotions in simple terms. Don’t bottle it up or “save your emotions” for later. Have a calm conversation about how you feel and how it affects your body. The goal is to get your kids comfortable with talking about they feel by hearing you talk about how you
  2. Understand how overwhelming their emotions can feel. Kids are still learning how to understand their emotions, much less control them. Try not to get heated (easier said than done, we know) when they have an emotional blow up. When one of our kids has a meltdown and we’re getting angry, everyone gets “quiet time” (sometimes so we can growl to ourselves out of sight and take some deep breaths). Then we talk about how we were each feeling and why. Calm actions encourage calm reactions.
  3. Teach the One Thing – Multi-tasking is often seen as a badge of honour and parents don’t really have an option if we want to get everything done. But kids need to learn to be mindful and focus. Try to keep activities single-minded. Have a face-to-face conversation without distractions. Create quiet spaces for homework. One thing at a time.
  4. Read more books. Encouraging your kids to read isn’t just about literacy skills. Books are unique tools that put you into different worlds and different bodies. It’s is one of the most powerful tools when it comes to learning and developing our sense of empathy. With words written on a page you can understand how someone felt and you can experience something you’ve never done. So read a little every night, and if you can, let them see you reading. Monkey see, monkey do.

Empathy might not be part of their lesson plan this year.

But it’s part of ours.

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