That's a question worth exploring.
Since I work mainly with children under the age of 3, I think about it a lot. Families are supposed to be sacred, the most important thing in life. A place where love is nurtured and tolerance exists. A place where problem-solving skills are eventually and sometimes painstakingly acquired.
Attitudes and feelings are born in the family. So why does our society in the US give only lip service to their support? The US does poorly when compared to other countries in offering family support. Here's a link to a UNICEF chart that shows how bleak it really is.
We, as individuals can do better.
My goal is to replace some of the intolerance, fear, and blame sometimes found in families with more true empathy and to do so in the early, early years.
Empathy breeds tolerance, bravery, acceptance, and mutual problem-solving behavior. It can be taught. The question is how?
How To Teach Empathy To Very Young Children
Teach each other
Teach our children and show them that families are sacred, safe places to be.
Teach them that every family is different and that’s a wonderful thing. Point out and explain every difference you see with an attitude of acceptance, curiosity, and tolerance.
Encourage children to be happy with their own families the way they are, AND realize that others are happy in their own families, even though they may be very different.
I found this book by Sophie Beer to be really helpful with toddlers and older kids, too. Children can be drawn to this book and have questions to ask so get ready to expand your ideas of what makes a proper family and explore an attitude of acceptance with your own family. Although it's a personal favorite of mine, it’s not an affiliate link at the present time.
Aside from books, make sure to include some real-life experiences with families who are happy being different from our own. Children do learn more through example than anything else.
Look for places in your community that are inclusive and welcoming to families of all kinds and support those places in any way that feels right to your family.
Start young. Be persistent. Be open to change! Make change!
Empathy can exist in a family, a child care home, a Head Start Classroom, Early Head Start, daycare center, preschool, nursery school, Montessori school, child development home, Kvetch, nanny care, nanny share, and more. It does still exist!!
Look for it and develop it. Here are a few links to my short articles on how to introduce empathy and attitudes of acceptance to children at a very young age.
or you can connect with us and get one very short article delivered to your inbox each week about creating more empathy in the world and get my slideshow, How To Get Kids To Listen Without Yelling Or Time-Outs, immediately for free
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.