SingaporeMotherhood | Preschooler & Up

March 2013

6 Ways To Grow A Loving Child

As parents, we want our children to become loving and kind individuals. This will not be possible if they do not develop empathy.

Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is feeling and to understand how you would feel if you were in that situation, and the motivation to treat people kindly based on that understanding.
Says Fiona Walker, Principal of Schools at Julia Gabriel Education, “Empathy is the foundation of the ability to love and it is at the core of good character. Empathy enables us to connect with others and the better we can do that, the more successfully we can communicate with others and the more trusting relationships we can have.”

In fact, empathy has been recognised as one of the most important qualities of a leader in any field and in any culture. “More than any other skill, it leads to success in school, in social situations and in careers,” she points out.

Start Young

Even infants are aware of the emotions of those around them. They can become distressed if they hear crying, smile if they hear laughter, and copy the emotions they see on Mummy’s face from a few months of age.

When a child turns one, the first signs of empathy emerge. You may find your little one attempting to comfort a crying child with a pat or a hug. “The child is not only responding to the emotion of the other person, he is taking action to try to make that person feel better,” Walker says.

Some children are naturally more empathetic than others at a younger age and studies have shown that girls tend to demonstrate empathy earlier than boys.

“What we must remember is that in young children, empathy is not usually shown consistently,” Walker highlights. “So, while your child may seem like a little angel offering help and cuddles one day, the next day, he may not be in the least bit bothered by someone’s misfortune.”

Be a Role Model

So, how do you nurture a loving heart?

“Empathy is a skill children learn and the very best teachers of empathy are parents,” Walker stresses. For instance, teach junior not to judge others and to be accepting by being so yourself. If you respect differences in cultures, languages, abilities, backgrounds, viewpoints, priorities, races and religions, your children will too!

Walker shows how you can encourage your child to be in tune with the feelings and emotions of others, as well as his own:


When your young child shows empathy, praise that behaviour. Say how pleased you are to see him being kind to others. The more you praise the behaviour, the more likely he will repeat it.


Share feelings openly

Talk about feelings openly at home to get your child to be comfortable expressing his own feelings and to be able to understand the feelings of others. Expressing how you are feeling or how you think someone else might be feeling will help your child be aware of the impact behaviour can have on someone’s mood.

By communicating clearly about how your child’s behaviour is making you feel and asking about how he feels, you are helping your little learner develop an awareness of his feelings, and the vocabulary to express them, even as he begins to understand the feelings of others.

Keep pets

Give your little one the responsibility of having a pet, if possible. Taking care of another living creature and being aware of its needs enable children to develop a great deal of empathy.

Expand his worldview

Travel to different places so that junior can see how other people live and how different that may be from his own life. Make good use of the Internet to explore different ways of life across the globe. It helps us to understand the fear, hunger and pain that so many people and animals are suffering, and enables us to reach out to and help these people or animals in far-off places. Watch travel shows and documentaries on TV, or read a book together.

Then, discuss any questions your child may have about people and places different from his own. Children are very innocent and may query why someone looks or dresses differently. Explain that people in different places look different, eat different food, wear different clothes, and speak different languages. Be a good role model yourself. If you are interested in different people and places and enjoy the diversity of this planet, your children are very likely to do so as well!

Monitor media exposure

As parents, we need to monitor what our children are being exposed to, making sure they do not watch too much violence – either on YouTube, in games or in movies. Studies have found that frequent exposure to violent video games can impact a child’s perception that some types of violence are acceptable or even entertaining. As violence seems to have no consequence and these games rarely provide the perspective of the victim, they can deaden the development of empathy in kids.

As junior gets older, monitor the communication he has with others through Facebook or other social networks. These are forums where people are often very unkind to one another and without face-to-face communication, there seems to be little consequence to that behaviour.

Keep talking

Ultimately, we want our children to grow up happy and succeed in what they put their minds to. Walker stresses that above academic skills, the development of empathy is the skill that is most likely to enable that.

So, make sure that your child has the time and opportunity to talk to you about feelings – how he, you or others may be feeling. This, she reminds, is far more valuable in the long run than any other structured activity or tuition lesson.

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6 Ways To Grow A Loving Child