Behavior

Encouraging Empathy

Empathy is the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a certain situation and respond with care.

Being able to empathize with another person means that your child:

  • Understands that other people may have thoughts and feelings different from their own.
  • Recognizes common feelings like happy, sad, angry, scared, etc.
  • Can watch a situation—like seeing a child saying goodbye to their mommy—and relate to how another person might feel.
  • Can respond with appropriate behaviors without being asked to. For example, giving a hug to comfort someone.

 

What does a child need to develop empathy?

  • A secure and loving relationship with their primary caregiver(s)—this could mean mom, dad, or someone else close to them.
  • Ability to consider how someone else feels (begins at 6 months)
  • A beginning realization that other people’s thoughts and feelings can differ from their own (begins 18–24 months)
  • Ability to know him or herself in a mirror or picture (begins 18–24 months).

 

How do I nurture empathy in my child?

  • Empathize with your child
  • Talk about feelings (good and bad)
  • Suggest ways your child can show empathy (“He seems scared because he’s all alone, why don’t you go stand next to him?”)
  • Read stories about feelings
    • I Am Happy: A Touch and Feel Book of Feelings by Steve Light
    • My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
    • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
  • When your child is upset, frustrated, sad, or experiencing any difficult emotion, let them know the emotion is okay and don’t rush to immediately fix it.
  • Use pretend play to experience how others feel
  • Help your child focus on how other people are feeling (for example, ask “Why do you think she’s smiling?”)
  • Help your child understand how their actions affect others
Content created in partnership with
Seedlings Group