Build Your Child’s Empathy

It’s heartbreaking to hear that your child bullies others. Or it hurts when your child sees someone hurting and piles on more cruelty.

Kids must understand how their words and actions affect others. Your job is to help them pick up on others’ emotional cues—like how to read facial expressions, or how to understand tone of voice.

Here are some ways to build your child’s empathy.

Talk about what others may be feeling
While with your child, seeing others hurting, point that out. “Natalie is feeling sad because you took her toy.” “Easton is angry because you called him a name.”
Show empathy to your own child
When you sense your child is sad or afraid, ask them about it. Then validate their feelings. “It’s OK to feel sad about that.” “Yes, that is very scary.” Label their emotions so they have language for each of their feelings.
Read stories
Stories transport children into the mind of another. They feel what the character feels. They begin to think what the character thinks. Kids are exposed to lives different from their own.
Try pretend play
Puppets, tea parties, playing with cars or Lego—join with your child in these types of activities to show them how to act in various situations. They learn much better while playing calmly and having fun as opposed to being lectured.
Practice random acts of kindness
Have your child pick flowers and give them to an elder. Have your child pick up litter from a neighbor’s yard. Helping others is a great way to build capacity for empathy.
Above all, be an example
Kids understand what is “caught” more than what is “taught.” If you’re modeling empathy toward others, your kids will pick up on that and follow your lead.
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