Expert Advice

Teaching Empathy

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q
My ten-and-a-half-year-old son is very self-focused. How do I teach him to be empathetic? My husband and I are good role models, and my eight-year-old son shows concern for others.
A
Your son's "self-focus" does not mean that he lacks empathy or that you have not been good role models. Try engaging him in conversation about social problems. When you hear of people who are suffering hard times, ask him his opinion about their plight, and what he thinks could be done to help them. Involving him in discussions like this shows him you believe he possesses empathy and compassion for others and that you value his thoughts on these matters. Take on a charitable activity as a family -- volunteering at a local food cupboard, shelter, etc. This will give your kids the opportunity to open up their hearts and minds and consider those less fortunate. Making these volunteer commitments a regular part of your family's life will afford both your sons the chance to feel the joy and sense of self-worth that comes from helping others. I am sure that your older boy will become more outwardly empathetic as you make this family value more of an action-oriented priority.

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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