When your kindergartener's best friend came down with the chicken pox, she made a get-well card for her with bright blue construction paper, because she knows that's her favorite color. This isn't just a cute gesture, it's a sign that your child's social relationships are gaining in complexity and that she is starting to understand the concept of empathy.
In a nutshell, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and show others that you understand. Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of manners guru Emily Post, says you can leverage your child’s newfound empathy to teach manners and good behavior. How does this work? Basically, Post says empathy is like muscle memory: if your child can remember how bad it feels to be called names, the next time she gets angry with her little brother she may refrain from using words against him.
In The Gift of Good Manners: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Respectful, Kind, Considerate Children, (HarperResource, 2002), Post and co-author Peggy Post outline what parents can do to help their children develop empathy:
Teach Values: Teach honesty by never telling falsehoods in front of your child. Take a simple example: spinach. Your child’s hatred of the leafy green always causes a stir at grandma’s house. Explain to your child that it’s okay to be honest, as long as you follow it up with a positive remark: “Grandma, I don’t really care for spinach. But your potatoes are the best!” This is better than the alternative--stating you’re full and then pigging out on apple pie!
Groom R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Parents should build on the notion of sportsmanship. For example, if your child is angry at his Little League coach for making him play outfield when he wanted to pitch, brainstorm possible reasons why the coach might have done it that way. It’s important to show your child that everyone makes mistakes.
Work on Communication: If a child has difficulty making eye contact with people, try making a game out of it. The next time she's invited to a birthday party, see if she can remember the color of everyone’s eyes.
Encourage Table Manners: Teach your child to make basic table conversation by asking Dad, “How was your day?”
Get Out-and-About: For every event, prepare your kindergartener by giving him a short list of expected behaviors. They may not be ready for an upscale ball, but kids of this age are capable of Manners 101. So set some expectations! Your child is able to practice making basic introductions, such as "Hi, my name is Lisa,” but Post says you shouldn't expect your child to introduce their friends and teachers yet.
By focusing on basic social skills in Kindergarten, you are providing your child with a solid foundation which they can build upon in the later grades.