3 Ways To Teach Empathy to Children
One of the goals of parenting is teaching children how to be kind and thoughtful. Empathy is an integral part of that goal. An empathetic person feels or understands what another person experiences through that individual’s point of view. Learning empathy helps children develop social skills, encourages them to help others, and aids them in regulating their own emotions.
While empathy is, to some degree, an inherited trait, it can also be learned. Here are three ways to develop your child’s empathy skills.
1. Teach Children About Others With Different Backgrounds
People see the world based on their personal experiences. Someone who grew up with a loving and affectionate dog, for example, probably views dogs much differently than someone whose only encounter was an unfriendly dog that bit people.
You can help your child understand others’ points of view by learning about people with different backgrounds and experiences. One good place to learn about other cultures and experiences is in books. Find books to read with your child that are about:
- Children in different countries or climates
- Families with different demographics than yours
- People who thrived while facing adversity
- Historical figures who lived in a different era
You can also find high-quality children’s shows that depict diverse characters. Many show writers include characters that are neurodiverse or from various ethnic backgrounds. One example is Bruno Thomas and Friends. These types of shows depict people working together and accepting each other as they are.
As children learn that others view the world and solve problems in different ways, they can develop empathy for those who live and think differently from them.
2. Demonstrate Empathy for Others
As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher and probably one of their biggest influences. When children see you being empathetic, they learn through imitation.
You can show empathy in everyday ways. Making eye contact with someone you’re conversing with is a small but effective form of empathy. Listening, being curious, asking questions, and offering feedback are also empathetic skills. Imagine your child observing you relating in this manner to a friend, someone in line at the grocery store, or their teacher. Your child learns how to have a conversation by watching you.
Speaking of others nonjudgmentally is another method of teaching empathy by example. Suppose your child is frustrated with a classmate who acts out and gets lots of attention from the teacher. Instead of accusing the other child of being a troublemaker, say something like, “I’m sure that frustrates you. Do you think your classmate has something going on? Maybe they are having a hard time keeping up in school. Perhaps they have something at home that’s really tough to deal with.” Your child can learn to see the other student differently and decrease your child’s frustration.
3. Teach Children To Label Emotions
Teaching children how to identify and name their feelings empowers them to understand their emotions more clearly. You can lead by example. If you spill a gallon of milk and yell in frustration in front of your child, take a deep breath and say, “Wow, that really made me mad. I didn’t want to spill that, and now I’m frustrated that I must clean it up. But it’s OK; I can fix this.”
Positive examples work, too. Imagine your child’s grandmother making a surprise visit. As your child runs to her in delight, you can say, “What a surprise! Look how excited and happy you are to see Grandma.”
Teaching children how to label their emotions helps them understand their feelings. They can use this knowledge for themselves and learn how to recognize different emotions in others.
Familiarizing your child with empathy skills increases their emotional intelligence. It puts them on a path to becoming a good citizen, dependable friend and higher-performing student. Most importantly, empathetic people can see themselves and others positively. It increases their overall happiness and life satisfaction — traits parents want for their children.