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Little Zen Minds

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The Power of Play: Building Your Emotional Skillset by Erik Fisher, Ph.D.

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Leading Emotional Dynamics expert, Erik Fisher, Ph.D., aka Dr. E…, has been changing the lives of children, teens and adults for two decades. As he says, "Life happens for us, not to us, and understanding that is the key to our own empowerment."

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is a very important life capability and play can have a vital role in enhancing empathy skills in children. Unfortunately, according to September 2016 "Consumer Attitudes and Beliefs" study conducted by The NPD Group on behalf of the Toy Industry Association, only a fourth of respondents agree that play increases empathy in children.

“Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.”

Don’t think that your kids should just be empathetic because you, their siblings or their peers have developed it by a certain age. It just doesn’t happen. Developing empathy is part of social and cognitive development. Play and practice can be a moderating factor.

How can play help kids learn empathy? Here are a couple ways:

  1. Think about what happens when a game is played. At the end of the game, there are those who win and those who lose. And throughout the game there are many twists and turns that evoke a wide range of emotions. These emotions provide experience for kids and how everyone responds to those emotions become a further avenue for learning. Help them look through the eyes of others to see how it feels from the viewpoint of those who win and those who lose.
  2. How many games can a person play before they become a good sport? Well, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? It depends on a number of factors, but play is an important avenue to gain these skills. Every time someone is exposed to their own and others’ emotions it is an opportunity to learn empathy. When someone learns to become a good sport, they have often become aware of how their actions affect others.

Do you demonstrate empathy when you play with your kids? Are you, as a parent, a good sport, and how do you help your kids learn the value of sportsmanship? If you don’t see the value in it, how will your kids see the value? Sometimes the best lesson in the game, isn’t in the score, it is in the discussion after the game.

Tips for enhancing empathy through play!

  • Teach your kids about perspective-taking by talking about how they and others feel while playing games. How does it feel to be on the other side?
  • Try to avoid using the terms “winners” and “losers” but instead talk about the people who won or lost. Winning and losing is an action, it doesn’t have to define the person.
  • When you lose, say little. When you win, say less. Either way, compliment them on a game well played.
  • Help your kids learn empathy by being a part of the game, not apart from the game. Get involved, model the behavior you would like from them.
  • Ask your kids questions about how they felt during and after the game. Are there different and better ways they could have expressed their emotions? Be willing to share your feelings after the game and how you handle wins and losses.

Through play, parents, caregivers, teachers and more can see the power of play with empathy and connecting with kids on a whole new playing field.

Have you played with your kids today?