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?
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).