Nurturing Empathy

December 21, 2017
Nurturing Empathy

With the Holiday Season in full swing, we all want to teach our children lessons of giving thanks and being grateful.

Before concepts of gratitude can be understood, we must begin by nurturing empathy in our children.


Empathy: Your child’s ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a particular situation and respond with care. 

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

  • Realizes that they are their own person

  • Understands that other people have thoughts and feelings that are different from their own

  • Identifies common feelings like happy, sad, angry, etc.

  • Can watch a situation (like a child saying goodbye to their parent), and express or relate to how the child might feel

  • Knows how to respond to different emotional situations. For example, your child may give a hug or a pat on the back to a child who seems upset.


What are the tools my child needs to develop empathy?

  • Secure, responsive, and loving relationship with primary caregiver(s)

  • Ability to look to a caregiver for emotional cues/signals on how to respond (begins around 6-9 months)

  • Recognition that other people can have thoughts and feelings different from their own (begins at 18-24 months)

  • Ability to recognize himself in a mirror or picture (begins at 18-24 months)


How do I nurture empathy in my child?

  • Empathize with your child. For example, let your child know that you understand why they are feeling upset about not being able to go outside.

  • Talk about feelings.

  • Suggest ways your child can show empathy

  • Read stories about feelings and ask your child how they think the characters are feeling

    • Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
    • My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss
    • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
    • The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
  • When your child is upset, frustrated, sad, or experiencing any difficult feelings. Validate their emotions—don’t always rush in to fix them.

  • Use pretend play to nurture empathy. For example, have your child respond to situations as a doctor, a mommy, a caring friend, etc.

  • Help your child to consider other people’s feelings on a daily basis (on the playground, when separating from parents, in stories)

  • As your child develops an understanding for basic feelings (happy, sad) start to introduce more complex emotions (frustrated, scared, anxious, touched, lonely)

  • Help your child to think of what faces look like when they are experiencing different emotions and take pictures.  Make a book of faces that represent happy, sad, embarrassed, angry, surprised, etc.


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