Teaching empathy to kids: Mom sending child off to school

Although the intellectual development of a child is crucial, it’s also important to focus on teaching empathy to kids. This will encourage holistic development in your child. What is empathy and why is it important for kids to learn it? Empathy is a person’s ability to envision how another person might be feeling and the equally important ability to respond to that feeling with care1. In short, it’s teaching compassion.

Empathy is a complex skill that can be learned in time. However, children can learn better with the parents’ support and guidance. Children who have high empathy tend to form better relationships at their homes, schools, and are often viewed and regarded as leaders by their peers2. Teaching empathy to kids early makes for a good foundation in raising a caring and responsible adult in the future. Below are some useful tips that can help you tackle this important responsibility of teaching compassion:
Teaching Empathy to Kids:  It Starts at Home
One very important aspect in teaching empathy to kids is knowing that it starts at home. In order for your child to learn empathy, he/she has to experience empathy from you first3. A child needs to be empathized with to learn empathy. They might not be fully aware of it at first. But if they know how it feels to be at the receiving end of it, they will be able to recognize the feeling and apply it in their interaction with others.

When they feel that you empathize with them, they will associate it with feelings of trust, belongingness and security. This makes them all the more capable of extending these feelings toward others. This may seem like a big task in teaching empathy to kids  but try starting small and asking them questions that promote empathy. Asking them how their day went at the daycare and genuinely taking an interest in their stories and the activities they want to do is a good place to start in teaching compassion.

It is also important for all family members to practice empathy to promote a compassionate household. Otherwise, children will get different messages and it will be confusing and inconsistent for them.
Teaching Empathy to Kids : Learning Empathy through Guidance and Example
As in most learned skills, children learn faster through watching and observing. Ultimately, they usually take their cues from parents4. With empathy being a complex skill, it will be best to break it down by exhibiting behavior that promotes empathy. Showing them that you treat others with respect and understanding is a good example of teaching empathy to kids.
For instance, the way you speak to the waiter at a restaurant who spilled water in your area is a concrete situation where you can show your child how to act with empathy towards others. Always make sure that you practice what you preach and be consistent in the process of teaching empathy to kids . Here are some steps you can take in teaching compassion to your child effectively :

  1. Talk to your child about what happened
  2. Explain to them why you acted the way you did
  3. Ask your child about how they think the other person felt about the whole situation

Additionally, showing your child that you have mutually respectful relationships with others will encourage them to gravitate towards the same kinds of relationships as well. Trust us, this goes a long way in teaching empathy to kids.

In essence, empathy is more than just taking another person’s perspective. It also means seeing things as how others would and valuing their opinions and perspectives for it. In your journey towards teaching empathy to kids, you have to always keep in mind that it is a work-in progress all throughout their respective journey to adulthood, which means the goal should always be progress and not perfection5. You should be well on your way to teaching compassion to your kid now!

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1 How to Help Your Child Develop Empathy (n.d.) Retrieved on August 30, 2020 from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/5-how-to-help-your-child-develop-e...
2 How Children Develop Empathy (2018). Retrieved on August 30, 2020 from https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-children-develop-empathy/ 
3 The Secret to Teaching a Child Empathy (December 2018). Retrieved on August 30, 2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/peaceful-parenting/201812/the-se...
4 10 Amazing and Easy Ways to Teach Empathy to Your Kids (2018). Retrieved on August 30, 2020 from https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/how-to-teach-empathy-to-kids-10-...
5 How Children Develop Empathy (2019). Retrieved on August 30, 2020 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smart-parenting-smarter-kids/201...