As we think about how much we have to be thankful for and how lucky we are, one can also reflect back to our core values - compassion, in particular. A large part of being compassionate relates to empathy. Though some people are innately empathetic and caring towards others, for many children it is something that needs to be taught and learned. Since young children are egocentric, we must help them become aware of the feelings and needs of others. It is important for them to learn to do good for the sake of helping others, rather than for any reward other than the good feeling they get as a result. They may not even be aware of that intrinsically good feeling unless we talk about it or point it out.
Conversely, when preschool children do something that is not empathic, it is also important to point out how their actions or words make others feel and hold them accountable - in an active, positive way. If children say something insensitive or hurtful to someone, it is very easy for them to say, “I’m sorry;” however those can be meaningless words unless there is remorse behind them.
I often hear people tell children to say I’m sorry for intentional though possibly impulsive words or actions when the child isn’t really sorry, except perhaps that they got caught. If that’s all a child is required to do to “atone” for injurious actions or words, they can develop the mindset that they can say or do whatever they want to others. Saying "I’m sorry" relieves them of fault or responsibility.
Instead of telling them to apologize, they need us to point out their actions and how they’ve made someone else feel, and ask them how they would feel if the same thing was said or done to them. Then ask them for a plan of how they are going to make that person feel better or fix the problem, and make sure they follow through.
Developing empathy also comes from doing good for others. Offer your preschool children voluntary opportunities to do help others. On campus, we often host a Food Drive or Gift Dive. Rather than going shopping by yourself let your child choose something to contribute and explain again who it is for and why we should help. This will help them see themselves as legitimately generous, kind and helpful, and set them on a path they can follow through their lives of being aware of the thoughts and needs of others and helping wherever possible.