Convincing Children to Have Sympathy Early

How do you begin to teach sympathy to your children today and why should you insist on teaching them sympathy

Ask each generation of parents, and the response will likely be that trying to teach kids a natural level of sympathy seems to be getting harder and harder. With the modern world bombarded with media and visuals that show hardness, violence, crime, a lack of empathy, and competition at all costs being the true winners, it’s no surprise that children are becoming less and less able to reach out care selflessly.

However, sympathy is not a hopeless pursuit. It’s, in fact, the very thing that Who should teach every new generation again and again. Everyone can learn from example, including those that are younger than them as well as older.

Teaching Sympathy

Teaching Sympathy

The concept of caring and being empathic is a natural one. As humans, we are taught to care from day one. Our mothers care for us as helpless babies, and until we can exercise independence bit by bit, we depend on that maternal nurturing for protection, growth, education, and comfort.

So the ability to understand caring for someone tends to be no great surprise. Toddlers and children can extend caring and sympathize from their first year. But something odd happens around age two and three. We dub it the “terrible twos,” but this is the point where girls and boys start to diverge in their behavior. Through restraint and control, girls are trained and taught that being selfish is wrong. However, boys are taught to start being competitive, the very antithesis of sharing and caring.

By the age of five, girls can connect emotionally, yet boys start to fight, jostle, compete and grab from each other. Yet by first grade, even the girls are starting to compete, but their focus is on attention and emotional rank versus physical control of desired items and toys.

Girls begin to practice the rules of social networking early on, developing a pecking order just the like the boys, with a top dog leader and then followers in groups. Children learn quickly, often as much from each other as from formal lessons.

Early lessons of sympathy are often the key for laying down the groundwork in young children. By the time children reach teenagehood, they can’t hear formal education very well. The attention span is temporarily hijacked by their extreme hormonal and physical changes. As a result, they are often prone to distraction and emotional frustration.

Learning concepts of caring don’t land well as a result. However, the mind is still extremely open and teachable with small children. The entire world is being absorbed until the age of 10, so establishing a mental infrastructure of caring and empathy is quite possible, starting in Kindergarten or preschool.

Repetition and reinforcement is often the most tried and true form of education for young children. They are not always the most accurate in memory with a single lesson. However, repetition often reinforces sympathy concepts and empathy lessons, building long-term memory rules. And it’s long-term memory learning that sticks with people well into the older years, far more than any passing experience or quick lesson might stick.

A good example of long-term memory establishment is how early math and the alphabet are learned. Long before children understand what words and math formulas mean, they memorize the alphabet and math results in tables. Later, when these units are memorized thoroughly, children can then apply them to more complex configurations.

The configurations may be new and unknown territory, but the kids know each unit by memory; it can’t be anything else. As a result, assemblies generally become manageable and understood by their units.

What Kind of Sympathy is Best?

Is there more than one version of sympathy? Absolutely. The idea of caring and being empathic is not limited to just one situation. It’s also rooted in a good understanding of ethics and what it means in terms of good behavior. And this is the basis that children should be taught from day one.

Sympathy isn’t an abstract idea or song. It’s a real practice and commitment that every child should commit to and follow every day. Soon enough, reinforcement makes the behavior of caring and empathy automatic. Not caring becomes foreign and abstract instead. And children will favor caring over not caring in more situations because their mind frame is built on an ethical foundation that caring is a good thing to do all the time, not just when it’s easy to do.

Through practice and routine, kids will eventually learn that sympathy comes automatically, like a natural reaction when they see harm and suffering. As adults, we call this being human and having a conscience to care for someone or something else when suffering or in obvious pain. But to get there, children have to be exposed and reinforced to the ideas of how sympathy works and how it is applied.

The training starts with caring for family and friends. Then it extends farther out to those with whom the child goes to school and works. Then eventually, the child realized through learning that sympathy can be generic and apply to anyone in a bad situation. While this may sound complex, children learn these steps quite fast in reality.

How Do We Have Unsympathetic Children?

Not caring is a non-human trait. It’s a learned behavior that goes against the fabric of being a whole human being. Instead, the approach shuts down caring and related emotions and replaces them with anger or severe discipline. A lack of caring generally comes from a lack of training in the topic or, worse, a shocking trauma that freezes the ability to be empathic and replaces it with discipline that relies heavily on the direction.

The military is very good at making this kind of conversion in people; it uses boot camps to shock sympathy out of recruits and to replace it instead with non-emotional violence and execution of orders.

However, one doesn’t have to build elaborate programs or trials to make children unsympathetic with young children. Instead, the catalyst begins at home – children who don’t receive nurturing growing up and instead get yelling mental pain and harsh conditions often tend to be the most unsympathetic towards peers and anyone who reminds them of their broken home life.

So once one realizes a given child is coming from this kind of environment, it’s not much of a surprise if the boy or girl seems harsh or cold. What tends to be the surprise is when they still can exhibit caring, words of sympathy, and empathy despite their home life.

In Summary

No magic bullet or trick makes children automatically sympathetic and empathic towards others. Instead, it takes a long process of ongoing education and reinforcement. Some children pick up the lessons early and make them part of the mental framework the child grows up with.

Other students don’t pick up on the critical cues and ultimately need to see situations for themselves to understand the power of caring. Even children are uniquely different and separate despite their newness to the world.

Caring is a natural part of being human, and children inherently know this lesson. They need to be reminded repeatedly in their early years, and the principles will solidify for the rest of their lives. Granted, some people will change as adults, but the large majority will be far better adjusted and empathic than those left without any sympathy training at all. Unfortunately, while sympathetic is natural, our culture advertises otherwise. A lack of reinforcement then leaves us to be educated by our media and entertainment elements on how to behave socially.

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