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Teaching Empathy to Your Child

Eight strategies to develop youth’s ability to understand their own feelings and others, empathy.
September 19, 2012

Help your children use their heads... And their hearts. A well-rounded education is more than just reading, writing, arithmetic and recess. To become successful adults, it’s also critical that children learn to work together in and out of the classroom. Empathy, the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes, is learned through practice. And with empathy, children become better team members and are less likely to bully. We can help our kids develop self-awareness of their feelings, regulate their emotions, and understand the feelings of others. Try these eight strategies to teach your child empathy:

  • Teach kids vocabulary to identify feelings. Emotions come in many forms. Teaching your child to label those feelings can help them understand them. Angry, disappointed, sad, jealous, peaceful, shocked, joyful... Start with the simple ones and branch out as your child matures.
  • Practice identifying emotions, using faces. Look at pictures together and take turns telling each other what you think that person is feeling. Stand in the mirror and take turns making a sad face, happy face, angry face, etc.
  • Use children’s natural interest in babies and toddlers to your advantage. Whenever you have the opportunity, talk with your child about s/he thinks the baby is feeling. Observe the baby’s actions and feelings and discuss together.
  • Help children cope with own emotions through calming techniques.Teach your child calming techniques, such as taking deep breaths, counting and visualizing or meditating. When s/he is feeling sad or angry, remind them to use one of these techniques.
  • Help kids put themselves in another's shoes by asking How would you feel? Help your child understand other’s feelings by occasionally asking them how they think one of their peers is feeling.
  • Set a good example. Children learn a lot by watching the adults in their lives. When your child is present, be careful to interact with others with kindness, love and charity. Using sarcasm playfully can be confusing to young children, so be careful to act in manners you want your child to replicate.
  • Encourage pretend play. When a child pretends to be a police officer, a mommy or a teacher, he or she is learning to understand others. The act of pretend play, especially in small peer groups, is an act of practicing empathetic behavior.
  • Play games. Games, such as checkers or chess, give children the opportunity to consider what their opponent may be thinking. In order to play these games well, we must try to understand the minds of the other player and that is an act of empathy.
How do you help your child to develop empathy?