Ever notice how children gravitate toward nature, animals and the outdoors? Between the ages of 3 – 7, kids begin to understand that others have feelings and thoughts much like they do. This often extends to the natural world, and certainly extends to other people. This is the stage where empathy – experiencing the the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of another – develops.

As children become increasingly social creatures and begin playing with one another (cooperative play) instead of alongside one another (parallel play), relating with their friends’ experience of the world is crucial. It helps them build strong, mutual bonds with others while learning the importance of giving, receiving and compromise.

Learning that the world doesn’t revolve around “me” is crucial to having healthy relationships with others. Making the leap from focusing on what I want, to focusing on what we want changes a child’s priorities. It creates a character foundation of thoughtfulness over selfishness, and let’s face it, the world could use a bit more of that.

Even for adults in the workplace, being able to see things from different perspectives and negotiating healthy compromises are extremely valuable skills. When children grow up with these values, their brains are trained and wired to do exactly that. It’s a huge leg-up that encourages communication, compassion and multi-angle thinking in every decision they make.

Whether you’re five or forty, this stuff takes practice. As adults, it is our responsibility to encourage and model empathy during this stage of our children’s development.

One powerful way to do this is by making an effort to listen to our children’s ideas and feelings, acknowledging them, and working together to find a compromise.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing a story about Daddy Rabbit and his Bunny Boy. I don’t remember the details, but Bunny Boy was throwing a fit because he couldn’t get his way. Instead of getting angry, Daddy Rabbit put his paw on Bunny Boy’s shoulder and said, “It’s not just about me, and it’s not just about you. It’s about finding what works for both of us.”

Corny? Sure. Who cares. It’s a great point, and it stuck with me. Modeling empathy and compromise are the most powerful ways to teach those skills.

What a gift.

To hear stories about modeling empathy, compromise, and the mistakes I’ve made (& tried to learned from), check out the Podcast page coming soon!

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