With the holiday season in full swing, families everywhere are struggling to make suitable plans for the pandemic. While our typical holidays are full of family gatherings, parties, and many other busy events this year, the pandemic has put a damper on our holiday traditions and, instead, increased our stress. And although our regular events are halted due to safety concerns, we must find ways to make the best of the situation. Using these uncommon times to foster empathy in children and get back to the true meaning of the season will help make the holidays special.
All humans are born with the capacity to be empathetic. However, we are not instinctively considerate of others, but empathy is, instead, developed through secure attachment relationships and experiences. Early signs of empathy begin just a few days after birth and are usually observed as a baby crying when it hears another crying. This emotional response is due to the firing of mirror neurons. As children get older, they begin tapping into the cognitive side of empathy. This is because their executive functioning skills are more developed, so they can better understand others’ points of view and better regulate their own emotions.
To nurture the empathetic muscle, we must help children exercise it. Since we are presented with an atypical holiday season combined with divisions in communities, now, more than ever, we should work with children to strengthen their empathetic responses. This begins with parents modeling empathy to others, including their children. Exhibiting patience and giving grace to others during these difficult times alleviates stress and makes everyone feel more understood. Utilizing current situations as learning tools for developing empathy will start the process. Teaching children what selfless giving is, is a great start. Helping them understand that not everyone has the same things can start the conversation. You can then encourage them to make decisions on how they can help others less fortunate.
In the SKILLZ Child Development program, life lessons such as patience, kindness, and sharing help children become more empathetic. The Certified Pediatric Ninja Specialists that run the classes are knowledgeable about development at each age level and can, therefore, implement and use opportunities to foster empathy that is age-appropriate. The supportive environment also helps students connect, and the brain-based focus supports the development of executive functioning, which fuels their ability to be more empathetic. Also, the Parent SKILLZ tips provide easy to implement methods that help parents connect better to their children and ultimately create secure attachments and model empathetic responses to others.
Now, more than ever, our world needs empathy. As the spirit of the season surrounds us, patience, and compassion for each other should be at the forefront of our relationships and interactions. Using these uncommon times to strengthen our empathetic muscles can create more compassionate, generous, and thankful community members. We can then attain joy and hope that the season should bring and use this unusual holiday season as a path for making more meaningful traditions for future generations.
Author: Jennifer Salama of Skillz Worldwide.
Jennifer is a 4th-degree black belt and has been training in martial arts since 2001. She has a Masters Degree in Child Psychology and has embraced the SKILLZ curriculum because of its focus on child development and using martial arts as a vehicle to develop the child as a whole.