I am very excited to kick off the five-part series: “How To Cultivate Empathy In Your Child’s Heart.” Five bloggers have teamed together to post activities and ideas to help teach children about empathy. The other four blogs participating in this series are listed at the end of this article – you are warmly invited to follow along for activities, crafts, service projects, artistic explorations, and role plays all to help your children develop empathy!
Definition of “empathy”: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else’s feelings or difficulties
Today I will be sharing simple exercises you can do with a set of Emotion Cards to help children identify feelings and begin to consider the feelings of others. I have split the activities up into three age groups but, of course, depending on the personality and maturity of your child the ideas may overlap.
Emotion Cards are a set of cards that show many different emotions. They can be made at home in many ways, for example using:
- Clip art
- Photographs of your child or of several family members (posed for the purpose of making the cards or taken at random)
- Pictures drawn by hand
- Pictures from old magazines, newspapers, or even junk mail
Some emotions/feelings you may like to include are: happy, sad, frustrated, scared, angry, excited, surprised, worried, embarrassed
To make our set of Emotion Cards I cut out pictures of children from free baby magazines I have received in the mail over the past few years (I have a pile stashed away in our craft supplies). Then I mounted the pictures on blue card paper and laminated them, since I made them when my first son was a toddler and I wanted them to last through years of use. Using a glue stick to paste the pictures onto squares of cardboard (like old cereal boxes) is another easy way to increase durability if you do not have or prefer not to use a laminator.
You can also just use the pictures by themselves without mounting or laminating if you want to have a quick one-time activity, or if you will be using the cards with older children who know how to handle the pictures carefully.
Now on to the activities…
We have used our set of Emotion Cards many times over the past few years. When my children were between the ages of two and three, I would simply encourage them to practice naming the emotions. This can be done in several fun and engaging ways.
Activities for 2-3 Year Olds
- Hold the stack of cards face down and flip them over one at a time to name each emotion
- Put the cards face down on the floor or table in rows (like you are going to play a traditional matching game) and ask your child to flip them over one by one as they name the emotions
- Place a selection of cards on the table face up (you may like to experiment with 3 at first, and eventually display up to 10 at a time) – name one of the emotions showing and ask your child to identify which card you have described
- Show your child a card at random and ask them to copy the face pictured, then name the emotion together
Talking about feelings and understanding how to name them is an important step towards developing empathy.
Now that my older son is 4, we can go a step beyond naming emotions to think about what the people are really going through in the pictures and consider how they can respond. Here are some ideas.
Activities for 4+ Years
- Choose a card at random from a stack (as if you are playing “Go Fish”) and try to guess what situation the person was in to cause the particular emotion they are showing
- Hold the cards fanned out in your hand, and ask your child to pick them one by one until they find the emotion that they are feeling right now – this will help them briefly consider what the other people pictured are going through, and compare it to their own feelings
- Choose a card (in one of the creative ways described in the list above) and talk about a time your child felt that way; what happened and what it was like
- Choose a card, name the emotion, and discuss what you could do if someone around you was feeling this way
- Set out several stuffed animals and dolls and put an emotion card on each one; then speak to the figures as if they were feeling those emotions – this will help your child practice how they can respond to people in different emotional situations
When children can identify their own feelings and the feelings of others, and begin to understand what the feelings are like to experience outside their own immediate reality, they can relate to others at a deeper level.
For children who are ready to take it to the next level, here are some more exercises to try.
Activities for Older Children
- Pair up and have each partner pick a card they will “act out,” then have a conversation taking on the various emotions – see if you can make each other feel better or share each others’ excitement, etc
- Ask your child to select a card and tell a story about a time they saw someone else exhibiting the emotion displayed, how they felt, what they did (or what they could have done)
- Ask your child to pick a card and draw the emotion they see on the card, or the situation the person was in to cause this emotion – this will help them think about someone else going through the emotion more in depth
Empathy is a crucial character trait to develop, in order to have healthy relationships. Giving our children plenty of practice identifying and discussing feelings is a great way to start off.
I hope one of these activities might work to help you spark a discussion on empathy with your child(ren)! We have enjoyed playing with our Emotion Cards many times – I keep them in my puzzle/activity storage area and bring them out every couple of months to repeat games we have played before and try new activities. It is interesting to see how the conversations develop as my children grow in maturity and understanding.
Feel free to let me know if you have used or plan to make some Emotion Cards in the comments. You are also welcome to share some other activities/ideas/resources you have used in the past to help your child develop empathy.
If you are looking for more activities for children to learn about feelings, you may like to check out this extensive list of ideas from Play Dr Mom.
This post is part of:
Be sure to visit the other four posts in this series from some of my favorite bloggers (coming over the next few days!):
Day 1 “10+ Ways To Use Emotion Cards To Help Your Child Develop Empathy” at Moments A Day (you are here now)
Day 2 “Toilet Roll Empathy Dolls With Free Printable” at The Craft Train
Day 3 “Foster Empathy In Your Kids Through Service” at Pennies of Time
Day 4 “Exploring Empathy Through Art” at Artchoo!
Day 5 “Teaching Empathy Through Role Play” at The House of Hendrix
If you liked this post and series, please share it!
Sheila @ Pennies of Time
I really, really like how you broke this down into age groups! Very helpful and the boys are going to enjoy the activities you have shared. Thank you!
So glad you liked it, Sheila! Hope the boys enjoy the activities and I look forward to reading your post later this week for more great ideas 🙂
Great post! Thanks SO much for including a link to my feelings activities post!!!
You’re welcome! Thanks for putting such an extensive list of activities together!
I completely love your emotion cards idea- I can’t wait to see how my almost 4 year old reacts to working with these. It’s so cool to see how little kids react to seeing different emotions, but I love that you included ideas for older kids as well.
I hope you both have fun with them! There are so many great fun ways to use them. Usually the kids come up with the best ideas 🙂
Such a fantastic resource, and easy to make up too. Love how you’ve broken up suggestions per age group too.
Thanks Kelly! It’s been fun to see what new activities come up as my boys grow. I’m sure there are so many other ways to use cards with older kids as well – we just haven’t been there yet 🙂
Kate - An Everyday Story
My husband and I have been talking about empathy a bit lately too. It seems that one of our children doesn’t seem to have much empathy for the other. I am not sure at what age a level of empathy can be expected (developmentally) but I think these cards might help us as well. You have made a really wonderful resource Chelsea 🙂
Thanks Kate! Yes definitely for smaller children a lot of it is just learning good habits – I think we can be surprised how much they can learn to be sensitive to others though, if we encourage that behavior 🙂
So many great ideas! I love how you broke it down by age- helps a lot when you have more than one and they are at totally different developmental levels!
Thanks Stephanie! It has even been interesting to see how my two boys have differed in their interaction with the cards at the same age based on their own temperaments. 🙂
I really love how you have included so many activities for every age too. I used to use empathy and emotions cards when I worked in family support and had forgotten all about their wonderful benefits. Thanks so much for the inspiration and all the info in this post!
Empathy can be such a hard concept for children to grasp. I think you’ve made some brilliant suggestions and I especially like how you broke it up. Thank you and an extra thanks for linking up to the Share It Saturday.
Krissy of B-Inspired Mama
One of my most popular posts is one when we made our own emotion cards. Great ideas, Mama!
Awwww we use something similar for older people but yes the break up age wise for kids was really nice. Will use them for sure and let you know how it goes… Thanks 🙂
Great post………. Thank you.
What a great idea. This is something I want to teach my son while he’s still young. I may use all of his cousins as models for each emotion. What emotions did you include in your set of cards?
I’ve been wanting to find some empathy dolls after reading a little bit about them. I’m glad you talked about developing empathy, and how important that is. I’m going to have to look for some good empathy dolls, and see what we can find! Thanks!
Thankyou so much for giving me these ideas! The child i’m babysitting is having a trouble expressing his emotion due to his strict parents and their high social status. When i’m baby sitting him he finally open up to me and becoming more and more trusting with eachother. Thank you! Your article do save lives out here love
FLASHCARDS FOR KIDS
good information for the cards so thanq so vary much
Such classic flashcards have been known to aid in memory recollection. There is no age limit to use flash cards — they can work as an engaging learning medium across ages 1 to 6
In using flash cards, our brains are kept constantly stimulated to actively recall information. Flash cards facilitate the metacognitive faculties in our brain.
Flash cards should be used to test your knowledge, not just as a way to condense your notes further. people list bullet points on flash cards that they carry around with them to reread.
Flash cards are simple to create and quick and convenient for testing yourself.