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How to Teach Your Kids to Empathize With Others

Aug 18, 2007
When my son and daughter were six and four, respectively, they got into an argument that escalated to my daughter socking my son. Marshall, being the boy that he is, gladly retaliated and hit her back. Kristen was shocked.

She came crying to my wife, but her cry wasn't one of hurt. It was a cry of disbelief. She just couldn't believe Marshall hit her. After explaining what he had done, Marshall quickly jumped in to offer his version of the story: "Well, she hit me first."

"Is this true?" asked my wife, looking at Kristen. It was then that we found out why she was so shocked that Marshall retaliated. Kristen replied, "Yes, but the Bible says that when someone hits you, you're not supposed to hit them back."

I have to admit, I was proud of her for having Scripture in mind. But she sure butchered the application. Naturally, I had never considered this passage in Matthew 5 as permission to strike someone without fear of retaliation. And, when we tried to explain the correct use of the Scripture, she just couldn't understand. Why? Because she was sure her perspective was the right one.

While some kids are better at it than others, it's not natural to see things from another person's perspective -- to empathize with them. We all have to be taught.

So how can you teach your children to avoid arguments and empathize with others? We teach our children that their anger is like a railroad crossing. When a train is coming, the crossing gate comes down, the lights flash, and the sirens blare. All of them are signals that danger is coming down the tracks.

Similarly, when a sibling or friend crosses them, their eyes burn and their voice blares, they need to know they're in dangerous territory. Big trouble is coming down the tracks. And if they keep going, they're going to get smacked. Instead, they need to use those signs as clear signals that they need to stop. Their anger is telling them, "Danger! You're thinking only of yourself!"

Satan loves to use anger to get us to sin. We need to teach our children how to use it to move us toward righteousness and healthy relationships. Using it as a signal for selfishness does exactly that. And it also reminds them to look at the situation from the other person's perspective. Of course, children aren't going to be that sensitive to this signal. So you'll likely need to remind them many times before they recognize it themselves.
About the Author
Steve Kroening writes for Success magazine and also publishes Wisdom's Edge. You can get Biblical tips on health, finance, relationships, parenting, and success, delivered to your email inbox every week. Simply visit http://www.wisdomsedge.com and sign up for this free e-zine.
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