How Empathy Boosts Popularity in Children
It’s a generally accepted principle that if you’re a parent, you want your kids to be happy and healthy. To raise them well and do what’s best.
Sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is figuring out what IS the best thing for your child.
Many parents would probably even agree that they don’t want their kids to grow up being selfish. It turns out that there may just be a way to teach your kids how to think about others, while also making them more popular among their peers.
The ability to identify what other people want, think, and feel has a special name among psychologists. They call it “theory of mind”. It’s being able to see things from another person’s perspective.
It was this ability that interested researchers from Australia. In the past, research has shown that the ability to navigate complex social situations has an affect on popularity.
So to verify these findings, they analyzed information from a number of studies. What researchers call a meta-analysis. By performing such large scale analysis it is more likely the data – and the findings they support – are accurate and reliable.
20 studies and over 2000 children from ages 2 to 10 were used from previous studies. The group covered children from Asia, Australia, North America, and Europe and were from a working, middle, and upper class.
The scientists found that there was a significant link between the two. But they also found something else.
Being able to see things from other people’s perspective not only increased the popularity for older children, but this also held true for preschoolers. The scientists believe that this is important because not only does it help you make friends, it also helps you maintain friendships as your child grows.
Another interesting result was that this link was stronger for girls than boys. Which may signify how gender plays a role on in social interactions. For example, the relationships among girls may depend more on understanding thoughts and feelings for higher intimacy and conflict resolution.
Slaughter – a researcher involved in the analysis – believed it to be an important social skill, saying:
“Our findings suggest that training children to be sensitive to others’ thoughts and feelings may improve their relationships with peers. This may be particularly important for children who are struggling with friendship issues, such as children who are socially isolated.”
Their findings were published in the journal Child Development.
A Skill For Success?
The theory of mind is closely related to the skill of empathy. They both involve the ability to read other people. To understand what others are thinking and feeling. So encouraging such behavior in your child could help give them a boost in popularity and navigate social circles in the real world.
Such skills really go beyond just popularity, though.
Popularity by itself can boost self-esteem and resilience in children as they enter high school and beyond. But emotional skills in early childhood have been found to predict other outcomes as an adult. Another recent study found that these skills in children can predict positive results for education, lower criminal activity, and overall mental health.
Teaching empathy isn’t just a fuzzy feel good social norm. It can give your child the skills necessary for strong friendships and outcomes that can have a deep impact later in life. The kicker being it also helps them to be a more understanding and well rounded little human.
Some people would call that a win-win.