Empathy is one of the foundation character traits we want children to develop in order to care for and get along with others. Here are some thoughts from mothers about how to teach this important virtue:
“Empathy is something we model by respecting the feelings of every member of our family. Even the feelings we don’t like! We say: it’s okay to feel that way, and I’ve felt that way before, too. I wish I could make it better. Can I give you a hug?” – Erika from Urthmama
“We are working on this, but basically if something happens to someone (usually it is another child getting hurt), I try to remind my son about when something similar happened to him. (Remember when you fell and hurt your knee? Or, he’s probably feeling sad, like you were earlier…) Also in general working on recognizing emotions when we are reading stories. (Is the bear happy or sad? How can you tell? Why do you think he’s sad?)” – Leanna from All Done Monkey
“I realized today that, especially with younger children, a really important aspect of teaching children empathy is also teaching them to be aware of and in tune with their own emotions. A certain emotional knowledge is necessary for empathy and I think that begins with empower children to vocalize their own emotions and being recognize them. (For example, I am not really mad about the drum that I didn’t get to play with, I’m mad because daddy is out of town and I miss him.) With this ability themselves, as they get older and smarter emotionally, they will be able to (hopefully) do those transfers with others.” – Jennifer from The Good Long Road
“We have found that serving others, helping others, really develops empathy in our young boys. When they fill another’s need, they can see how to better understand what another person may be experiencing. We have also found some really great books that help the boys see examples of someone having empathy for another. It is a great way to “pause” a story and talk about emotion and need. Here is a link to a post I wrote on how service fosters empathy.” – Sheila from Pennies of Time
I personally believe that conversing about character traits while engaging in hands-on activities and exploring themes via storytelling are powerful ways for children to understand and eventually exhibit the traits. Here are some resources that can help with this:
10+ Ways To Use Emotion Cards To Help Your Child Develop Empathy
Activity to Teach Children about Physical Differences
5 Activities to Teach Preschoolers About Hunger
To browse more character building activities on my website, click here. You may also enjoy my ebook with 100+ activities in an easy-to-use checklist format, Playing with Purpose: Character Building Made Fun.
What other thoughts or resources do you have about how to teach empathy to young children?
Colleen Doyle Bryant
I completely agree. Stories are a great way for children to learn how others are feeling by reading facial expressions and body language in the illustrations. Stories are also a great way to learn how they would feel in a similar situation. Learning how to listen to one’s heart and mind is critical to building good character traits because it is the main way children learn to tell right from wrong once no one is there to guide them– by how the action feels on the inside. Some great resources for teaching empathy can be found at: Talking with Trees Books . The stories use very expressive illustrations to help children feel their way through issues around listening to your conscience, treating others kindly, forgiving, and more. You can also find free printable empathy worksheets which are especially helpful for teachers and for parents of children who have trouble reading social cues.