Empathy means identifying and understanding others’ feelings in order to be a more caring person. Empathy helps us build relationships with others and gives us a reason to want to solve problems so that others are not hurt.
As parents, we can help our children develop empathy by encouraging them to:
Identify their own and others’ feelings by looking at faces, recognizing body clues, and listening to the tone of voices. Parents can help children practice by noticing, “You are smiling,” and asking, “Are you happy? Why?”
Recognize that people may react differently to different situations and have different perspectives. Parents can help children practice by saying, “You like to rollerblade, but it scares your friend. What can we do about that?”
Predict feelings and take a different perspective. Parents can help children practice by asking, “How do you think your friend might feel if she asked you a question and you didn’t answer?”
Learn the difference between accidents and things done on purpose. Parents can help children practice by asking, “Do you think he meant to knock over your bike?”
Share feelings. Parents can help children by modeling, “I feel happy when you offer to help set the table.”
Understand and accept differences in others. Parents can help children practice by saying, “It’s okay for your friend to be different than you. You two are alike in some ways too. How are you alike?” Parents can help identify the positive aspects of the differences while emphasizing the similarities.
In summary, parents can help children become more empathic simply by listening and talking about feelings with them. When children can recognize, acknowledge, and share their own feelings, they will be better able to understand others’ feelings.
Adapted from the Committee for Children Second Step Violence Prevention Curriculum.