It’s no great mystery where kids get a feel for empathy
Updated: March 28, 2012 5:20PM
Occasionally we parents take inventory. Are we doing a good job as mom and dad?
My children play too many computer games. They also love fast food ... this in spite of my chasing them around with vegetables and fruit, much like the smiley-faced Kool-Aid pitcher used to lumber around the playground, pushing refreshments. Of course, now Kool-Aid Man would be cuffed and arrested.
Over the years, I hoped to teach my children a love for reading, for keeping a tidy room and removing the garbage without being asked. Zero for three. But they give me hope that I haven’t completely failed.
I call the boys over to look at a 1936 Russian painting by Nicholas Roerich. High atop the mountains, a hunter looks at his prey. The wounded deer has fallen into the arms of a hooded, consoling figure who tries to remove the arrow from its haunch. The painting is called “Compassion.”
I ask the boys how they feel about it.
My husband cracks, “Well,
this guy isn’t having much compassion for this hunter’s starving
family back in the hut, letting this good venison get away.” He jokes, but he knows. Empathy is important.
At my son’s junior high, they have Pizza Days. His friend doesn’t have the money to buy a slice, so my son shares his, even though this means less for him. Once, after school, my kid stepped between arguing buddies, told them to stop, to listen to each other, and to apologize.
I stared with slack-jawed astonishment. This from the same kid who as a toddler left teeth marks on his older brother’s shoulder.
Empathy is the foundation to all moral and social choices. If I have empathy for you, I cannot lie to you, cheat you, hurt you, and so forth. Empathy courses are taught to first-year medical students. Schools teach empathy as part of bully prevention.
We parents who have kids in sports, we spot the aggressive, superior-acting kids on other teams. They’ll do whatever it takes to win.
And we know where a child’s empathy really originates. From us.