Can Empathy and Gratitude be taught?

When it comes toward the end of a successful home-based program with a child, many parents are asking me how to teach their child gratitude, or how to express empathy with another human being?

In many circumstances, children are taught to routinely learn how to say “thank you” even if they don’t truly mean it. Of course, most children want to please their parents and just imitate it.

The same is true in many instances when a parent wishes their child would feel some kind of empathy towards a sibling, a peer or a friend.

In my 30+ years of experience, helping families complete successful programs, I have taught one particular approach or strategy:

Role Model! Role Model! Role Model!

The parent or any supportive staff person, friend or helper in a home-based program, who leads by example, who consistently expresses gratitude and empathy on a daily basis, will be teaching the child by example and the child will pick up on that.

To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in your child” is one of the most effective ways I have seen to encourage the child to not only process and understand the concept, but to eventually share it and make it their own experience.

When the parent leads the way, with excitement and sincere feelings, the child will follow.

So, next time you have the opportunity to role model empathy or gratitude towards your child, go for it. There is no limit in how much thankfulness you can express, or how often you put an arm around a person, with deep understanding and empathy of how they feel or what they are going through. You don’t even have to do anything to try and “fix” it. The person who’s in need of understanding will always be receptive to your genuine feelings.


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Global Autism Solutions