How to Grow Your Military Family’s Capacity for Empathy

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by Meg Flanagan

Before March, so many of us were rushing around, blinders on, just trying to do all the things all day long. Then the whole world hit pause, hunkering down during the pandemic. Suddenly, we’re all moving forward in slow motion. Right now is the perfect time to build empathy skills! 

As we cautiously reopen America, take the time to help your military family see the needs of others.

The breakdown in our society has helped to shine a light on previously hidden groups of people. We’ve suddenly realized just how vital delivery people and grocery store workers are to daily life. Everyone is learning a whole new level of respect for health care workers, first responders, and teachers.

We’re cheering each other one and finding ways to be kind. Let’s keep it going! Try these fun ways to practice empathy and see the needs of others.

Kindness, generosity, and empathy can seem like they're sorely lacking in a society when "me" is more important than "we." Use these three strategies to help your family think about others. #empathy #kindness #militaryfamily #army #airforce #marines #coastguard #navy #arng #reserves #nationalguard #parenting #children #parents


Identifying the needs of others

Sometimes, it just starts with a conversation. This is perfect for families with kids and as an internal dialogue in adults. This works across the spectrum. So much of seeing the needs of others come from recognizing hardship in a life.

Ask the questions:

  • What is hard about ______? [being homeless, being a frontline worker, etc.]
  • How can our community support this person or community?
  • How can I support this person or community?

Ask your kids these questions and record their answers. The answers to the first question will help you find answers to the last two questions. You’ll be able to see ways to support others with community-based and individual actions.

Share joy everywhere

We have a giant paper flower garden on our big picture window. I cannot tell you how happy it makes my family. I can only hope that others get joy from our crafted flowers, too.

Around the world, we see rainbows, hearts, and teddy bear scavenger hunts being organized. Neighbors and whole cities are working together to cheer frontline workers at 7 PM every night. We are actively sharing joy with each other.

As a family, brainstorm ways that you can create and spread joy. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Little moments of joy count, too!

  • Make a card for a neighbor who seems lonely
  • Plant colorful flowers in a place that everyone can see
  • Bake cookies to give to your neighbors
  • Paint a rainbow or heart on your window
  • Smile, or give a thumbs up if you’re masked, when you pass others on the street

Take notice of others

Invite your children to notice how other people feel. When watching TV or movies, hit pause during emotional moments. Ask your children to explain why they think a character is acting or reacting in a certain way. Do the same when you’re reading.

Then take the conversation further. Ask your child how they would react in the same situation. Why would they act that way? Talking about emotions and making connections to themselves helps children see the world from another point of view.

It can be hard to put themselves in the shoes of another, but asking questions and creating pretend scenarios based on fiction or TV can help.

You can also talk about emotional moments in your own home. Explain why you’re angry or sad and talk about ways you could have reacted differently. Explore how the actions of other people in your family might have contributed to your feelings and actions.

Do something for others

What can your family do to actively support the needs of those in tough situations? I love the approach of Marla Bautista and her family! They created a business, then turned all the profits of the business around to support homeless populations wherever they are stationed.

Marla experienced homelessness as a child and teen, making her very aware of what the community needs to gain more security and stability. Marla recommends keeping blessing boxes or bags to share hygiene items to those in need. 

You can help lots of people in your community:

  • Follow Marla’s lead and keep blessing boxes in your car
  • Fund teacher supply lists or classroom needs via DonorsChoose
  • Donate to your local library
  • Make masks or donate PPE to first responders
  • Volunteer to care for the pets or yards of elderly neighbors
  • Drop off dinner for new parents or those who have suffered a loss
  • Sponsor care packages for troops via Troopster
  • Donate to local groups, like homeless shelters or animal rescue groups, in whatever way you can manage

There are infinite ways to see and respond to the needs of others. No single way is “right.” It’s more about helping your family to be aware of the lives and feelings of others. Then, take a step to lift some of that burden.

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Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger and military spouse. She owns Meg Flanagan Education Solutions, an education advocacy service dedicated to serving families on the K-12 journey. You can find Meg on Facebook. Meg is also available as a freelance writer and personal education advocate!

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