Raising an Empathetic Child: How to Best Support Them

empathetic child

Do you have an empathetic child who is a friend to everyone?

I do!

Ever since he was a toddler, we could tell that my second son (P) was just wired different than his peers. We say he is an old soul in a young body.

My son is calm, relaxed, and has a strong spiritual nature that leads him to express extreme empathy and emotional intelligence.

My Empathetic Child

After starting school, he would often come home and tell me how he impacted others.

For him, school has been mostly about the soft skills (relationships, connections) and less about the hard skills (like reading, math — although he performs great there, too). Rarely do I hear about the hard learning first in our conversations. But I always notice how deeply he equates his personal self-worth to his ability to help others. 

One instance was last year when we discussed an experience of having a kindergarten buddy. His class (2nd grade) went to a Kinder classroom to help with projects and create little kid/big kid relationships in the school. P told me about how he is typically paired with a child who struggles to focus and “be good” (his words).

He noted that this boy often lashes out and struggles to listen and follow directions. P said that whenever he works with him, they always complete the task and project because P is patient and kind.

My heart exploded with pride when I heard that. I completely had a #nailedit mom moment when he described how helped this child complete a project, and also enjoy it too!

A few months later at conferences his teacher spoke highly of P’s inclusive nature. About how he asks every day what he can do to help.

Again, I am really lucky to have a child like him, but sometimes I worry about what adulthood will look like for him.

Reflectively, I am sometimes torn on how to fill his bucket with helping others while also ensuring he also puts himself first as he continues to grow and mature. 

How to Protect and Also Encourage

I wonder how I can protect my nice kid from others taking advantage of his innocent nature, while also supporting and cultivating his empathetic tendencies.

It comes down to a delicate balance of supporting who he is. But also helping him set healthy boundaries for stress, conflict, and emotional regulation. 

If what I am saying resonates with you or a loved one, consider some ways you can support the empathetic individuals in your life to thrive and not just survive!

First, consider the signs of extreme empathy or what being an empath looks like:

What is an empath?

According to Antesa Jensen an emotional intelligence expert, “Empathy is the ability to feel what other people are feeling. Being an empath means that you feel other people’s feelings as though they were your own.”

An example of this is hearing about someone’s pet passing away. Empathy lets you understand the pain of loss. But a true empath can take on those feelings of deep grief, sadness, and loss as if they themselves lost that pet.

Judith Orloff, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People states that there are a few signs to be aware of with highly empathetic children:

Things to Look Out for:
  • Sensitivity
    • Children could have a hypersensitivity to noise, sensory experiences, or environments as a result of their emotional overloads.
  • Likes being alone
    • Natural empaths can be introverted and prefer to play alone and/or have a smaller group of trusted friends. 
  • Intensely feel the negative emotions of others
    • Take bullying for example. An empath who witnesses another child struggling in a situation like bullying may be overcome with emotions that lead to depressed moods, heightened anxiety and irritability.
  • Difficulty handling emotions
    • I call this the after-school tears. Most of my younger boys through elementary school exhibit this pattern of crying and overwhelm after a school day. Mostly because they have held it all in at school, it can come out at home where they feel safe. However, empaths will exhibit heightened emotions after many situations — not just school. 

So what can we do to help?

I realize as a mom, I cannot expect P to change who he is and nor do I want to. However, I do want to help him thrive, love life, and get the most out of others without overwhelming myself or him in the process (put your oxygen mask on first!).

Here are some ways to support an empath to create healthy boundaries and manage stress according to Jensen:

Ways to Support an Empath
  • Stress management
    • Consider ways to alleviate stress and teach it early on. Whether it’s deep breathing, distraction, alone time, or exercise. Find ways that help your child alleviate and release stress.
  • Stay positive
    • I will be the first to say that fixing my empathetic child is not on the agenda. However, remaining positive and engaged helps them to trust and feel supported. P’s love language is physical touch and quality time. So I make sure to get those cuddles in and have enough one-on-one time. Figure out your child’s love languages here!
  • Set boundaries
    • P is a people pleaser and will spend every waking hour with friends, family and people. Model setting boundaries as a parent to help them navigate which experiences, to say YES to and which they can wait on. I want to thank the COVID-19 pandemic for this because I too, was a chronic over-scheduler. Now, I focus on what fills my cup and keep my circles smaller, with more trusted people who support me unconditionally. Who are those people in your child’s life?

Empathy is a great asset for people and natural leaders, but it’s up to us as parents to ensure empath tendencies remain healthy.

If you have received the gift of an empath for a child, know that the road might seem long and overwhelming, but these little humans love fiercely and we are lucky to have them. 

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Alexis is happily married to her husband, Andrew, and together they share 5 sons. Born in Minnesota, Alexis followed her husband to Manhattan, NY, before returning to Fargo. A proud Latina, she believes in utilizing multi-cultural experiences to inspire other minority women to be active in their community. Alexis believes strongly in public service and living passionately through serving others. After her 3rd son, Max, passed away at 22 weeks (2014) life has never been the same, but sharing her story has helped cope with grief and honor his place in their family. Aside from writing, Alexis enjoys traveling, laughing, dancing and food. She will never turn down Starbucks, a trip to the nail salon, or the farmers market. Follow her in pictures through Instagram and connect with her online via Facebook.

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