Giving Thanks – Tips to Foster Empathy and Gratitude with Your Child

By Anne Peters, LMFT

Thanksgiving has come and gone, but our gratitude lasts all year long. How do we foster gratitude in our children? How can we teach them empathy? Here are some great ideas:

1. Empathize with your children – Model for them what it’s like to show empathy. As an example, if a child in your care is feeling scared of a storm, we can empathize by saying, “I see that you are feeling scared, and I understand your scared feelings. Storms can be loud and startle us. We are safe.”

2. Talk about others’ feelings – Acknowledge and label when those around your child are experiencing feelings – both positive and negative. For example, if you notice a child at the park is crying, talk with your child about how that person is feeling. This expands a child’s understanding of feelings for both themselves and others.

3. Show empathy as a team – If a child at the park trips and falls, team up with your child to go check on the friend and offer empathy.

4. Read stories about feelings – The more all feelings are normalized, the more comfortable a child will feel to be aware of their own (and others’) feelings. Some of my favorite feelings books? “Grumpy Monkey” and “Today I Feel Silly.”

5. Be a role model – If this has not been made clear yet, the easiest and most effective way for a child to learn empathy and gratitude is by YOUR example! They are always observing us and learning along the way.

6. Be patient – Growing the skill of empathy takes time and does not happen overnight. Be patient, and the skills will develop. Especially true for children who have experienced trauma, this skill may take time but we can all agree it is worth it in the end.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, despite the differences 2020 has brought us. We are thankful for you!

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