Children and empathy
Happy White Sunday to all our geniuses and well done to parents who've cheered on the tauloto, mouthed bribes of ice cream and potential punishment for those who refuse to finish. Don't sweat the small things, before you know it, your five-year-old will be in college and you're left asking about where the time went. Congratulations to all teachers as well, it's been a celebration for you. Malo lava.
This week we are discussing empathy. "Children learn empathy both from watching us and from experiencing our empathy for them. When we empathize with our children they develop trusting, secure attachments with us. Those attachments are key to their wanting to adopt our values and to model our behaviour, and therefore to building their empathy for others".
At what age do children develop empathy? Generally, this is not easy to answer. Some researchers have noted that empathy is evident in children as young as eight to 16 months (Roth-Hanania et al., 2011). This study concluded that children develop modest adaptive and cognitive empathy levels before age two. Prosocial and self-distress reactions were shown to increase after the age of two (2).
Other researchers state that truly showing empathy means an individual needs to understand emotions and be able to label them. According to Decety (2010), children around four years old can understand and show empathy for another person's perspective and their reactions to an event. I can agree with this as my four-year-old is empathetic towards people, animals and even bubbles!
As parents, we know what an important role we play in modelling behaviours we want our children to learn. Thus, we must model empathy in front of our children too. For example, if we see a person or animal being mistreated we could try to help them, and we would show our sadness or distress and state.
Why am I talking about these? Empathy and perspective are important for any leader. We keep saying that our children are the leaders of tomorrow, but we are leaders right now. Leaders today. Our time isn't up yet which means we can still make good changes and evolve. The real job of a leader is not being in charge, it is taking care of the people in our charge. Great leaders build their team to take over from them at any point and at the same time develop themselves. Like parenting, everyone has the capacity to be a parent but not everyone wants to be one or should be one. It comes at great personal sacrifice.
Empathy is putting ourselves in other people's shoes, having compassion for someone else and being kind is free. We don't even have to be leaders to show these. So, while we enjoy another great White Sunday, remember that our children aren't in competition with each other. Teach them the proper way while they are young, so they won't depart from the right path when they're older. We do not lack intelligent people; we lack those with integrity and compassion. All are learnt behaviour from watching adults and figures of authority in our lives. Manuia le Sapati!
• Enid Westerlund is an aviation specialist, business consultant and author and loves to share stories and write children’s books.
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