Many parents recognize that their children often see themselves as the center of the universe. But children also exhibit an incredible ability to wonder and to relate (even infants show an innate capacity to attune themselves to the feelings of other infants). Children appear to be naturally inclined to empathize with peers who are hurt or bullied. By and large, children are as aware of their social surroundings as they are egocentric. However, there are great ways to encourage social awareness in children:
1. Teach Your Child About Personal Space:
While some kids are more naturally inclined to physically express their acceptance and affection (admittedly, my kids are huggers), sometimes this sort of behavior is not the best. It’s important to be very specific when you are talking about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and provide him or her with visual cues. For example, you can have them stretch out their arms and explain that this is their personal space, and that everyone should provide each other with that much space when interacting. Kids must also understand that if they get too close to another person or touch them, they might react negatively.
2. Discuss situations from everyday life:
Take a conversation you had with a friend, family member, or clerk at the supermarket that your child has witnessed and ask her to point out the language, body language and facial expressions that were exchanged. You can also role play with toys to show what he or she would have done in that situation. Even though your child was present when you had this exchange, it’s always a good idea to ask him or her what she thinks happened, how people felt, and how he or she could tell this, before you provide your own interpretation of the situation.
3. Play a game of “Feelings Charades”:
A good way to teach your child about body language, emotions, and empathy is to have her play a game of “Feelings Charades.” Parents and teachers can use flash cards with different faces, or even write emotions or behaviors that hurt others on pieces of paper and let children pick one out of a hat. By taking turns acting out the way a person would be feeling with either the emotion that’s on the paper or the face that’s on the card, kids will jump into discussions on topics that a child this age might be reluctant to talk about otherwise.
4. Observe the behavior of pets:
For those who have pets, animal behavior can be a great tool when addressing social awareness in children. A dog or a cat, for example, will behave in specific ways when it is feeling happy, angry, playful or tired. Point out these behaviors to your child as they appear, and explain to her how these emotions are similar to those experienced by the people around him or her.