While most people have the capacity to have empathy, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel what they feel, empaths feel other people’s feelings or physical sensations as if they are their own. When a child is an empath, it can be confusing for them and often disregulating. As a parent, it can be hard to know what’s best for a child who seems to feel everything.
Some signs your child might be an empath include:
- Hypersensitivity to external stimuli like sound, crowds, or lights
- Easily hurt feelings
- Easily upset by other people’s hurt feelings, like seeing a classmate get bullied
- Preferring playing alone to playdates or team sports
- Feeling extra tired or drained after school or activities
While this is not an exhaustive list—and being an empath is not a diagnosis like a mental illness—1 to 2% of the population may be empaths, so your child might be one of them.
Empaths report exhaustion, depression, and fear when they don’t know how to manage the waves of feeling that can assault them every day. We want to protect our kids from these types of negative experiences and, if you suspect your child might have empathic qualities, you can help them navigate their world in such a way that they may even see their empath traits as a gift.
Cultivate their best environment
Empaths are often highly sensitive people. The world around them easily overwhelms them because they are getting more stimuli than the average person. For a parent, “It is essential to reduce environmental clutter in order to lessen distractions,” says Shana Feibel, psychiatrist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She says “clutter” can include visual, aural, and textural stimuli.
Your child might prefer neutral colors to bright ones. Feibel suggests that your child might want to travel with headphones, ear plugs, or white noise and, when it comes to textures, may prefer soft, loose clothing.
Because empaths sometimes get emotional feedback from strangers, they often do not prefer crowded places like grocery stores or indoor play places. If your child gets overwhelmed during team sports, they might prefer other activities or down time after school.
Help them set limits
Empaths often need more alone time than other people and may be introverted, needing to be alone to recharge. For parents who often feel pressure to over-schedule and over-socialize their children, this can be a hard adjustment. Feibel says, “it can be helpful to create and maintain a schedule which limits the amount of responsibilities a child must complete in one day so they do not become overwhelmed.”
As their parent, you can help your child become more self-advocating.
“Because empaths may not realize when they are becoming overtired or over hungry, they could easily extend themselves too much,” Feibel says. “It is very important to teach them to listen to their body cues so that they can start regulating themselves at an early age.”
Teaching a child to say no to things and to set boundaries will help them as they get older and need to set emotional boundaries with friends and romantic partners, as well.
Manage your own needs
You are a VIP to your empath and, as such, your current state is going to affect them. Take care of your own physical and mental health for the sake of yourself, yes, and your child.
“Take the time you need to support yourself and have others support you when necessary,” Feibel says. “This is a long journey, and it is vital to keep yourself well for yourself and your empathic child.”
Surround yourself with a community of people who love and support you and your child. Your kid has a big heart and big feelings and will thrive in a circle of family and friends who accept them and give them what they need to be their best, most loving self.
Love them as they are
“Empaths need to have more emotional support than the average child,” Feibel says. “Do not be afraid that you are spoiling them just because you are taking extra care to nurture and support them.”
While it is understandable that you might compare your child to others who can “deal” with the world better, Feibel says, “Understanding your child is essential for parenting them,” Feibel says.