At 5:30 every weekday morning I head to my local YMCA to work out. Each morning I am greeted with this “Empathy” sign. And I smile every time I see it. Empathy: what a great value, what a great skill.

Empathy: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things the way they see things.

Empathy: a trait that successful adults have and that we need to teach our children. Being empathetic means that we understand people’s views besides our own, helps us to be kinder to other people, and gives us the ability to be open-minded, friendly, and considerate.

Empathy: a skill that will greatly increase the communication we have with our kids. When we can put ourselves in our children’s shoes, and try to see things the way they see things, it makes it a lot easier for us to connect with our kids and to have healthy conversations. (Plus, we need to remember that they are kids, and that they express themselves the only way they know how. Is it immature, and frustrating, and annoying sometimes? Sure – because they’re kids!)

So how do we teach empathy? By being empathetic! By saying things like “I understand”, “that makes sense”, “I can see you are frustrated”, and “it’s okay to feel that way”. We also can teach empathy by being polite to the homeless man on the street, by donating our gently used clothing to those less fortunate, and by having people of different races, nationalities, and ages in our friend circle.

When we respond with empathy to our children, when we truly listen to our children, we are letting them know we understand; we are letting them know that it’s okay to say what they said; we are letting them know that their feelings are valid and accepted. Our responding with empathy makes our children feel heard and understood. And when they have expressed their feelings and opinions, when they feel heard and understood, they are able to then listen to us and to move on from the topic they are feeling stuck on.

When you display empathy to your children, to friends, and to strangers, you will naturally be teaching your children to be empathetic and kind. When you display empathy to your children, they will start to be empathetic and kind to you and to others. And isn’t that a goal of parenting?