WHAT IS IT?
Empathyɛmpəθi/ - noun - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Essentially, having empathy means to be able to connect and experience the nature of someone or something outside of ourselves - or simply put, to step into somebody else’s shoes.
WHAT IS ITS EFFECT ON US?
When we experience empathy we feel the urge to relieve hardship for other people, and when we do, we get a hit of happiness due to our connection with that person, or our empathetic nature towards them.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT OUR BRAIN?
The prefrontal cortex is linked to our social behaviour, our ability to empathise and create positive relationships and also our ability to concentrate and focus.
The prefrontal cortex also thrives on mindfulness activities, such as mindful breathing and mindful listening. In fact, 8-week mindfulness studies have shown that the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex develops after practicing mindfulness and allows us to empathise deeply with others and to better cope with stress.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO RAISE EMPATHETIC KIDS?
Studies have shown that empathy has implications on every aspect of our lives, including our learning. According to Kathleen Cotton, successful learners must be knowledgeable, motivated, confident learners that have the ability to understand the motives, feelings and attitudes of others (also known as empathy). This is because successful learners are aware of the success they can acquire through communication with others, and can perceive themselves from a different perspective.
HOW IS EMPATHY DEVELOPED?
Studies have found that mothers whose approach to parenting of preschool age children can have an impact on the development of empathy in the child. Specifically, mothers who are responsive and non-disciplinarian usually have children who are more affectionate and empathetic (Kathleen Cotton).
Also, it is has been proven that engaging children (even young ones) in the discussion of the implications of their actions can be effective in producing empathetic mindsets in kids (Kathleen Cotton).
PRACTICE as much as possible using mindfulness exercises in both formal, and informal settings.
CHECK IN with yourself and reflect throughout the day by asking yourself questions such as:
- Am I treating this person how I would want to be treated?
- Am I speaking to this person how I would like to be spoken to?
- How would I feel in this person’s situation?
- Could I have been more empathetic in that situation?
- How could I have articulated myself differently for a better outcome?
CREATE (if you haven’t already) a strong image in your head of the kind of person you would like to portray. Imagine the ideal version of yourself, someone who is able to flow between the world’s ups and downs mindfully, with compassion and empathy. Then…
ASK yourself this:
- How does your ideal self react to change?
- How does your ideal self manage stress?
- How do you enrich your community to become more happier, healthier and more empathetic?
Having clear goals allow us to envision where we want to get to, and make it much easier to implement tools, such as mindfulness, into our daily routines that will ultimately assist us in achieving our goals.