I’m not a parent, but I do understand how difficult parenting is. I’m also aware that it’s not exactly popular for a non-parent to try to advise parents of anything. That said, I am not writing this as a parent, I am writing it as someone who was spoiled rotten and had to learn how to empathize the hard way. I’m writing it from the perspective of someone who knows what it’s like to look back on her actions in shame and guilt.
I am not here to shame parents or to try to claim that I know more about raising children than anyone else, because I don’t. I am here as someone who understands humanity and how the mind works. And I am here to beg parents to teach their kids empathy.
What Is Empathy?
Basically, being empathetic means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and life, and experiencing their thoughts and feelings about any given situation. It means thinking about how your actions will affect someone, whether in a good or bad way, before taking them.
Why Is It So Important To Have Empathy?
As humans, we are social beings. Even if you’re fairly isolated as a child, once you enter the real world you will find yourself interacting with all kinds of people. Some will be assholes and others will be great, but knowing how to interact with them is important to not only your own well-being, but the well-being of society as a whole.
Whether it is with coworkers, clients or friends and romantic partners, having empathy helps with all relationships. I speak about this in another post, Empathy In Marriage, and how being able to empathize with each other takes fights and turns them into discussions.
The same applies to work-related disputes. When a coworker upsets you, pausing to think about why they do what they do will help you resolve the situation. Instead of taking offense and blowing the entire situation out of proportion, you may discover that the reason they’re late sometimes is because they have a sick kid at home, or the reason they’re snappy is because they’re going through something in their personal life.
If every person on this planet was able to empathize, we’d have much less violence and anger and much more peace and kindness.
The Ability To Empathize Starts In Childhood
It is said that children develop their personalities for the most part by around the age of 6. From ages 2 to 6, children are not only learning how to read and write, they’re also learning how to interact with other people.
Kids are naturally selfish because we all are. It’s a human trait that is attached to our survival. Sometimes being selfish is healthy, but only in moderation.
Although children learn a lot from what they see and experience in school, they learn mostly from what goes on at home, since this is where they spend the majority of their time.
A lack of empathy is closely tied to being “spoiled”. If a child is given everything they want when they want it, they quickly start to believe that they are the only person who matters in this world and they should always get what they want, no matter if it is harmful to someone else.
That said, it’s not enough to not spoil your child; you have to actively teach and show them that other people matter, too. That their actions affect those around them and to think about what they say and do and how it will affect people before doing so. It’s not just a matter of, “Don’t be selfish.” It’s also a matter of, “Think of other people, too.”
I’m not a parent, but I understand how quickly even the most well-meaning parents can spoil their kids. It sometimes happens on such a small scale that you don’t even notice it’s happening until it’s too late. After hearing the child cry or scream for a long amount of time, exhaustion can cause you to just give in.
That said, if you want your child to grow into a responsible adult, you have to be cautious about it. It is vitally important that children are taught from a young age the importance of kindness and empathy. That they understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that life is about compromise.
Without this understanding and knowledge, they will enter the world totally unprepared to deal with real life. If they’re used to always getting their way or to not having to think about what other people are going through, their relationships and even their work will suffer.
I say all of this as someone who was entirely and totally spoiled. We were poor, but as the baby I pretty much got what I wanted to an extent and had hissy fits if I didn’t. I was a terrible kid and teenager.
Entering the real world was a slap to the face. I struggled for a good while until I finally understood empathy and how to deal with people. That only happened, though, because of the traumas and pain I went through. A lot of people who are selfish, entitled and unempathetic carry those traits with them the rest of their lives and harm others in the process.
If we want the future to be a better place for our children, we have to give our children the tools to do that. If we’re teaching our kids to only look out for number one and screw everyone else, we’ll continue to have violence and anger and oppression. If we teach them to treat everyone equally and to empathize, we will be at least one step closer to peace and understanding.
Not only does it help their futures, it helps them on a personal level, too. So, if for no reason other than to make their lives easier, please teach your children empathy from a young age.