Sincerity and Empathy Go Together: An Important Lesson
Children need to learn the value of sincerity. Yet, it is equally important that they learn to take into account the feelings of others.
One of the values that parents try to foster most determinedly in their children is sincerity. Since they’re little, they’re insistently told that they need to be honest. But hardly ever do we explain to them that sincerity and empathy should go hand in hand. When the truth is told tactlessly, without considering other people’s feelings, it becomes a cruel act.
Children are the embodiment of innocence, as they lack inhibition and don’t filter expressions. Since they’re still acquiring cognitive skills, many times they say what they think exactly as it is in their minds. This may be very curious and fun for us adults, and we may frequently reward those behaviors by paying attention to them. However, instilling honesty is just as important as teaching them the ability to stand in other people’s shoes.
Honesty in children
While children are little, they learn to understand life and to go about in the world. They observe the consequences of their own and other people’s acts and they choose their behavior based on that. That’s why it’s common for them to lie at certain moments and for various purposes.
They can hide the truth to avoid punishment, to get what they desire, or to avoid letting their parents down. Most of the time, children’s abilities to lie fall short and their intentions become evident in the adult’s eyes. That’s when we start telling them that they should be honest.
We encourage them to tell the truth and we tirelessly explain to them that lying is wrong. Lack of inhibition is natural to the little ones – which sometimes leads them to make comments that can be hurtful.
We’ve all heard a child tell another person that they’re ugly, that their teeth are weird, that they’re fat, or that they draw terribly. Due to their ingenuousness and lack of awareness, infants express themselves without thinking of anything, but their own thoughts.
Their comments aren’t the result of evil, but spontaneity. It’s the adults’ job – parents, relatives, and educators – to help little ones model their behavior. We need to teach them to differentiate between lying and being considerate, and to show them that sincerity and empathy should go together.
Importance of empathy
People are born with the ability to be empathetic. Yet, we develop and polish this skill throughout the different stages of development. Feeling empathy for someone who is crying and was clearly hurt doesn’t require the same complexity and depth of analysis as anticipating the way a comment may hurt another person’s feelings.
In fact, to develop empathy to the fullest, children need to reach several important milestones. In the first place, they need to see themselves as independent beings, distinct from their mothers.
Later, they need to understand that other people have feelings different from their own. And finally, they need to become aware of the fact that each person has his or her own thoughts.
Only after going through this complex process will children be fully able to stand in someone else’s shoes. Only then will they be able to infer what the other person may be thinking and feeling and how they may react. But it’s in our adult hands to make it easier for them to be empathetic.
First, we need to explain to them why our acts and words have an impact on others and how our comments can make people happy or sad. This will be easier if we provide examples of everyday situations or if we use children’s books or movies to address the topic.
These tools can be useful to discuss together which thoughts and feelings the characters may be having in each situation and why. Also, we need to encourage them to think about how they would feel if they were in somebody else’s shoes.
Sincerity and empathy should go together
These exercises will allow them to see that, sometimes, the truth can hurt other people’s feelings. It’s always necessary to take that into account before externalizing an opinion. They’ll be able to see the difference between lying about an exam’s mark and omitting a comment about somebody else’s physical aspect.
Honesty is important, but if we don’t consider the other person’s feelings and measure the consequences, it can become a cruel thing.