Building Empathy in Children

In a world where our kids often face bullying, stress and fear of being different, building their empathy skills is a critical way to help them thrive. But what can parents do to help? And what does empathy even mean?

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What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences, emotions and feelings. Empathy allows us to understand how another person might feel in a specific situation, even when different from our own feelings.

Why empathy helps kids:

  • Helps a child understand that she is a separate individual with her own feelings
  • Helps a child understand that other people can have different thoughts and feelings (and that’s okay)
  • Builds self-esteem by valuing a child’s individual thoughts and affirming their right to those thoughts
  • Supports mental health by enabling a child to express emotions, cope with stress, and understand it’s okay to be different
  • Allows a child to develop healthy relationships because they can relate to, communicate with and share feelings with another person

How parents can build empathy:

  • Help your child understand his or her own emotions; ask them to share their feelings by talking openly about emotions and sharing your own.
  • Help them learn how to label and validate those feelings so they can do the same when interacting with others.
  • Encourage your child to consider the feelings of others in specific situations; ask them how they might feel in the same situation (whether it’s a sibling conflict or a situation at school, etc.).
  • Role play situations where empathy is critical: bullying, peer pressure, conflict with siblings/friends to help them prepare for challenges where empathy might be especially difficult (and important).