How to Foster Empathy in Your Kids

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories starts at school. I was in second grade and we were making turkey hands—you know, when you trace your hands and your fingers make the feathers—and we had to write what we were thankful for on each one of the feathers. Like any good 8 year old, I wrote toys, cake, TV, and family—just in case Santa was watching for early nice points.

When I got home, my mother took a look at my masterpiece and asked me, “What do you think I’m thankful for?” I immediately thought it was a trick. I slowly answered, “Me?”

Little did I know, I received more than a big hug that day—I received a lesson in empathy.

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and to imagine how they feel. These skills allow us to become stronger problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, and cool people.

Considering we all want to be a bunch of Fonzies, here are some tips for how you can foster empathy this Thanksgiving and all year long.

Talk about others feelings.

Is your child’s friend crying? Identity how that friend is feeling. Point out cues to how you know they are feeling that way.

Read feeling books.

There are a great number of books which addresses feelings. Ask your local librarian for their recommendations. Personally, I love Todd Parr’s The Feeling Book.

Label your own feelings.

Point out moments if empathy when you see it in movies, television, and real life. You can also promote empathy play by pretending with stuffed animals and dolls. By setting a strong example, your kids can learn empathy from you.

 

So this year, when you are making Thanksgiving hand turkeys with the little ones, ask them to write what they think their family is Thankful for. You’ll give them a mini empathy lesson—and you might get a great story out of it too.

Executive Function: What it is, what it does, and why your kids don’t have it (yet)

Have you ever been in the checkout line when it hits you—Milk!—and you have to haul it to the dairy aisle and back before it’s too late?

That’s your working memory saving you from another trip to the store. Working memory is just one component of executive function—which is a fancy term for the ability to focus, plan, remember, and have self-control.

Executive function consists of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-control—skills that help us make plans, manage time, resist temptation, and remember the milk.

However, these are not skills we’re born with.

Executive function skills develop over time, which means that little ones under the age of three are learning them, practicing them, or don’t have them at all.

But whether you’re a little one just learning or an experienced adult, nothing derails executive function skills quite like stress. And what’s more stressful than the Holidays? It’s hard enough for us grown-ups to keep our executive function skills on track this time of year—let alone our kids who are just starting to develop those skills.

Here are some tips to help you relieve your frustration and give your brain (and your kid’s!) a helping hand.

Make a list…check it twice.

Make all the lists. You can never have too many. Even if you forget the list at home, you will have the tactile memory of writing each item. However, remember the list.

You can also ask your kids to help remember the grocery list—it makes them feel involved, helps build their working memory skills, and might even save you a last minute dash from the checkout line.

Let the little ones help.

Kids can be a massive help in the kitchen, when they are given tasks that match their skill level.  Take it from my personal experience: Thanksgiving is NOT the time to start knife training—that is unless you fancy extensive urgent care lines.

Here are some tasks that all kids can help with that will give you a hand AND help them develop some executive function skills of their own:

  • Washing fruits and veggies
  • Mashing the potatoes
  • Measuring ingredients (think of the math!)
  • Making place settings
  • Setting the table
  • Cleaning up

Summon your executive function.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that stress is messing with you—and your executive function. Now that you know what those skills are and what they do, you can take a step back from the stress and remind yourself that you’re an expert. And if you feel your patience wearing thin, remember that your kids are still learning.

 

Now, go get that shopping done.

 

Thankful Cards

The Thanksgiving season is upon us and we want to know, who are you thankful for? In the Kraft Artabounds Studio, visitors have been creating one-of-a-kind cards to show how much they care about the special people in their lives.

Girl

How do you and your family give thanks?

KAStudio

Join us in the studio this week to design your own card. Be sure to check our calendar for studio hours. We look forward to seeing you here!