Empathy is being aware of another person’s feelings and being sensitive to those feelings. It’s the term we use for the ability to understand other people’s feelings as if we were experiencing them ourselves.
While many believe that empathy is an inherent quality, research has suggested that this is a skill that can be learned.
Showing sympathy and having empathy are two different things. As a foster parent, it’s important to demonstrate both.
So, just what is the difference between empathy and sympathy?
While empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings as if we were having them ourselves, sympathy refers to the ability to observe someone else’s feelings and demonstrate feeling sorry or sad about their situation.
When you are sympathetic, you understand that someone is suffering and you feel sorry for them, but you might not necessarily relate to or fully comprehend (or appreciate) their situation
Simply put, the emotion of sympathy is your reaction to their situation, and it can sometimes lack understanding. This is because when showing sympathy, you are thinking about your own emotional reaction, which might not demonstrate any understanding of the person who is suffering.
Empathy, on the other hand, allows you to feel intimately and see the other person’s perspective. It’s not just understanding what they are going through, but being able to walk in their shoes.
There is no judgement, instead, when you express empathy, you are able to draw on your own personal experiences and relate to how that person is feeling. For example, if you have lost a loved one, you might say “I’ve also lost someone dear to me and I know what it feels like to experience sadness and grief.”
Expressing empathy shows the other person that you are there to feel with them and that they aren’t alone.
At FCA, we believe in therapeutic foster care, where the care our foster parents and we demonstrate is completely tailored to meet the complex needs of each and every child. Empathy is key in therapeutic foster care, as everyone involved in each case needs to understand the background and story of the child, and if the child has a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma, a therapeutic approach is needed to support their well-being and development.
When considering a career in foster care, you need to have specific skills. While key skills such as understanding, patience, compassion, and resilience are essential, perhaps empathy is the most important and sometimes overlooked skill.
The importance of empathy is especially crucial when it comes to foster care. It can help you build connections, regulate emotions, and promote positive behaviours. Helping your foster child feel included, truly cared for, and heard.
Empathising with the birth parents and their situation can help build further bonds with your foster child. After all, it’s so easy to judge, but putting yourself in their - possibly impossible - situation will show both the birth parents and the child that you don’t place blame. And instead, want to do everything possible to help make everyone’s lives easier and better.
When you choose to become a foster parent and are successful in your application, you’ll learn about the different types of foster care placements. These range from short-term and emergency fostering to fostering a disabled child and long-term fostering. In each case, being able to demonstrate empathy with your child in care, whatever their situation, is crucial to building bonds and creating a safe and secure home for them.
Here are some simple ways you can show empathy when communicating with your foster child.
Do your research
It’s not enough to just know your child’s name and age, you need to learn as much as you can about your foster child’s experiences and background. Having this knowledge will help you build empathy for them by allowing you to put yourself in their shoes. We’ll provide as much information as possible, and are on hand 24/7 to help.
Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine what it is like for them. How would you feel if your whole world was changed out of your control and you suddenly had to leave your family and live somewhere new? Communicate these feelings with your child in care by telling them how brave and strong they are.
Give them space
When your foster child first arrives, they will most likely be quiet or have their guard up for a while. Showing empathy and giving them a bit of space can help slowly bring them out of their shell. Let them know they can take as much time as they want getting used to their new household and foster family, and that they’re welcome to just spend time in their room until they feel ready to open up a bit. This shows that you understand their situation and you know they might need some space to acclimatise.
Remain calm and respond with kindness
It’s perfectly normal that your foster child (like any child) might act out or test your boundaries. You might instinctively want to shout or get angry, but pause and take a breath. Once you have calmed down, respond in a way that shows you are actively listening to them.
We’ll help you understand your foster child’s likes and dislikes, and any interests or hobbies they might have. Use this knowledge to build a connection and have fun with them. This bond will naturally help you become more empathetic toward them.
Careers that require empathy
If you are looking for a new career challenge and have previously worked in a role where empathy is essential, then you will have the transferable fostering skills that could make you a brilliant foster parent.
There are many vocations where the importance of empathy is crucial. In these roles, being sensitive and in tune with people’s energy, emotions, and thoughts (even if you don’t know them) can make all the difference.
Let’s have a look at a few of these roles where being empathetic, intuitive, caring, giving, and sensitive are key. If you currently work in these professions and are looking for a change, then we know you’ll make a wonderful foster parent.
- Healthcare professional
- Social worker
- Childcare provider
- Career coach
- Human resources worker
- Teaching assistant
- Charity worker
- Life coach
This list is by no means exclusive, and even if you don’t work in these fields (or similar) if you are a natural empath - someone who experiences high levels of sensitivity to your emotions and the emotions of those around you - then fostering could be the most rewarding career for you.
Use your skills to help vulnerable children
Being empathetic can you help build a thriving career in fostering. And at a time when the need for foster parents is at an all-time high due to the drop in foster care during the pandemic and the rise of vulnerable children needing safe and stable homes, using your empathetic skills has never been more essential.
If you’d like to have a chat about how you could provide a caring home for a child or young person and help change their lives, then get in touch with the friendly team at FCA. We’d love to answer any questions you might have.