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  • Writer's pictureDr. V.S. Gayathri

How To Help Kids Learn About Empathy!

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

An exchange of empathy provides an entry point for a lot of people to see what healing feels like. – Tarana Burke

Empathy heals, and it is something wonderful that you can offer someone. We need more empathetic people in the world. As parents and educators, it is one of our responsibilities to raise responsible and empathetic individuals for tomorrow.

Empathy is a crucial component of social intelligence, and many experts argue that empathy is the basis for morality. A study from the University of Kansas and Baker University has found that an intervention focusing on empathy skills can improve relationships between mothers and children and life satisfaction.

Many believe that children may not develop such skills until they are four or five. However, by 12 months, some babies attempt to soothe people who seem distressed or upset. Moreover, toddlers show a remarkable degree of sophistication when they try to help us (Martin and Olson 2013).

Let us understand what is empathy and its implication for children.

Empathy is the ability to understand, feel, or share others’ feelings. It is an emotional reaction to what another person feels or would be expected to feel.

There are two main types of empathy: cognitive and emotional.

Cognitive empathy is understanding another person’s perspective and feeling their pain, whereas Emotional empathy is experiencing another person’s emotional state.

Here are some simple tips for parents and educators to make kids understand empathy and practice it too.

1. Talk about your own feelings: Kids, especially younger ones will pick up cues from what they see around them.

Naming emotions helps children learn to recognize different feelings in themselves and develop the self-awareness necessary to practice empathy with others, says Dr. Lynne Merk, a psychologist at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

As a parent, you can encourage this development by naming your own emotions and describing how you feel in different situations. Talk about how you are feeling in reaction to a particular event or situation, don’t try to hide. Also, show them what could be the right course of action.

Be a role model for them for example donate their unused toys or books and explain why you are doing so and who you are helping and why they need these more than they do. You can also take them grocery shopping and donate some things to organizations and people in need, explaining to them why it is important.

2. Understand their feelings: Don’t reject or ignore their feelings. If they are trying to talk about their experience, lend them an ear and understand what they might be feeling. Explain why they must act with empathy and show them examples too. Help them understand and resolve their inner conflicts.


3. Use resources for toddlers: Books, movies, stories, and videos are great sources to make young kids understand concepts or ideas. You can look for age-appropriate resources (keep checking our page too) for your child- read a book together, watch a movie or a video, do a social act of empathy together, and many such small things that will help them understand the value of this social skill.

Here are 2 amazing videos that we loved on empathy-

Here are some book suggestions on feelings-

· I Am Happy: A Touch and Feel Book of Feelings

· My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss

· How Are You Peeling by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers

· Feelings by Aliki

· The Feelings Book by Todd Parr

· Baby Happy Baby Sad by Leslie Patricelli

· Baby Faces by DK Publishing

· When I Am/Cuando Estoy by Gladys Rosa-Mendoza

4. Provide opportunities: Learning empathy requires practice and guidance. Give them ample opportunities to exhibit their learnings. Understanding others’ perspectives is the key to empathy. Ask them when they must show empathy or why did not act with empathy in a certain situation. Explain what they might have done wrong and why.

5. Praise their efforts: Research shows acknowledging and praising your child's positive actions can help reinforce the behavior and increases the likelihood they will act similarly in the future. The aim is to make a habit of complimenting your child when you notice them showing empathy and letting them know their actions made you proud.

Most importantly, be patient. Take time to explain things and wait for your child to imbibe the essence. Don’t make it sound like a routine, but rather a habit that will grow in them naturally.


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