Help Your Preteen Develop Empathy

Empathy: the action of understanding, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. What are some words or phrases which express your wishes for your preteen?

Successful? Honest? Safe? Thoughtful?

A person who loves God truly and deeply?

A person of integrity?

As parents we are not always sure of the best ways to help our children develop the firm foundation they need to grow into productive individuals and withstand the inevitable growing pains and stresses of life.

While certain traits and temperaments are inborn, some preteens are more optimistic, caring, and persistent. Here are some ways to help preteens develop desirable emotional skills.

Teach by example

Preteens observe the way we handle emotions, and how we interact with people and solve problems. Ask yourself, "How would I want my preteen to behave?" Try to act accordingly.

Express your love

When a preteen feels valued she is more likely to want to become the best person she can be. Let her know how special she is by spending time with her. Shared activities could be shopping together, playing a favorite game, or shooting hoops.

Affirm positive behavior

Catch your preteen doing something kind. Complimenting him is far more effective in promoting positive values than negative response when he has done something wrong. Show him how proud you are of his actions by affirming him in front of others.

Model positive emotional expressions

Emotions are God-given. Demonstrate your ability to express your emotions in positive ways as a model for your preteen. If you are angry, say so. ("When someone is unkind to you, I feel angry.") Don't negate them. ("That didn't hurt.") Or, convey mixed messages about your own feelings ("I said, I am not angry!") Describe the emotion you see your preteen exploring. For example, say, "I saw you being unkind to your best friend. Do you want to talk about what is upsetting you?"

Read and tell stories

Books help children remember eternal values as being kind to others and persevering in the face of adversity. Read a book with your child and talk about the emotions that the characters have and the feelings that the book generates in the reader. Tell stories from your childhood. Let preteens learn that you once faced the same quandaries they may be facing now.

Engage your preteen in helpful activities

Mission projects can become family projects. Demonstrate to your preteen the importance of meeting the needs of others.

William E. (Bill) Young teaches second graders in Sunday School at First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He has written often for the church’s Advent Book. Bill is a retired manager of Preschool and Children’s Discipleship and Family Ministry Department at LifeWay Christian Resources.

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