6 Ways to Teach Empathy to Children

The ability to understand the feelings of others is a core quality that contributes to healthy, prosperous relationships and social connections. At our integrative family wellness center, we look at the impact and the role that empathy plays in healing the family dynamic. We can work with you on how to teach empathy to children.

Parents who know how to empathy to children weren’t born with this knowledge – they learned and applied it. And you can too! We find in our integrative family wellness center, that many parents were not taught how to empathize with their own feelings let alone learning how to empathize with their children’s feelings. This is a struggle when you are trying to practice things that you yourself has not been taught yourself. 

The good news is that within our integrative family wellness center, we teach these skills for success. As a growing part of integrative family wellness, these skills can be tricky to learn, especially for toddlers. However, all of the work and effort you put in to teach this important trait pays off greatly. Please take your time, add one step and one component at a time. 

The founder of the school of individual psychology, Alfred Adler, said, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” This is even when we do not want to see the other person’s viewpoint. 

A few questions posed by parents in our integrative family wellness center, look something like this: When is the right time to start teaching our kids empathy? How should we do it? Is the occasional lecture about the importance of the skill enough? Are there some creative ways to do it? Will your child end up overwhelmed by empathy? When looking at the role of emotions, beliefs, behaviors, and actions we begin to look at the integrative family wellness dynamic. 

Parents who practice conscious parenting deal with these and many other questions on a daily basis. Fortunately, even though it is a learned behavior, your child is born with the capacity for empathy. You just have to recognize it and encourage the attitude that cultivates this capacity. This can be a challenge when dealing with survival mechanisms such as keeping up with the demands of work, money, etc. However, slowing down and being present is a practice that we teach at our integrative family wellness center. Providing skills, tools, techniques, and walking someone through the process of healing holistically is a what we help families do in our integrative family wellness practice. 

Any parent who is capable of being kind and shows compassion already provides their children with a good foundation of empathy. Children often mimic behavior that they see and are around. These include healthy and unhealthy behaviors. 

Here are 6 ways to teach your child the art of compassion and empathy that we teach in our Integrative Family Wellness Center:

  • Teach about emotions. Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize, differ, and name various emotions correctly is the key to future empathy. Use flash cards, discuss, and provide insight to various emotions. Remember children do not have the language to describe and connect with their emotions. Providing language and insight for children by providing connections to their emotions. Such as I see you are frustrated, do you want to talk about it?
    • A child cannot empathize with feelings they can’t explain. By pointing out and naming emotions you assume your child is feeling, and the ones you’re feeling as well, you will stimulate the development of emotional intelligence. Repressed emotions and repressed communications can create outbursts. People often have outbursts when they have stifled communications. Understanding this can be helpful and supportive to your child.
  • Model and interpret a variety of feelings. Use everyday situations of observing distress (in real life, books, or on TV) and talk with your child about how the main character of the story could be feeling. Teach them to take a pause and think about other people’s emotions before taking any action. This will teach more presence and educate them out of reactivity. Remember, emotions can feel very big and they can be overwhelming. Many adults have difficulty understanding their emotions, let alone children. Demonstrating low frequency (sadness, anger, grief) as well as high frequency emotions such as joy, happiness, etc. Placing names on these emotions to help build connections to these emotions is key.
  • Inspire curiosity for similarities. Kids feel greater empathy for familiar individuals and people who are more similar to them. People will feel safer if they understand that more people feel the same way as they do. Sometimes if a person does not see or experience another person feels the way they do they can feel wrong, bad, or like an outcast. Knowing and supporting this uncertainty can build confidence. At our integrative family wellness center, we encourage the use of emotions as a tool. We teach families how to harness the power of their emotions to teach boundaries, make decisions, and even manifest the things we want in life.
  • Our integrative family wellness approach, helps your children be aware of characteristics or experiences that they have in common with others. Allowing them to meet people from different backgrounds so they can hear their stories and identify with them.
  • Read stories and organize role-plays. Empathy is more than just “emotion sharing.” It means taking another person’s perspective as well and trying to walk a mile in their shoes. When situations come up ask questions like, how do you think this person felt or how a person would feel if this situation occurred.
Teach Empathy To Children
  • Fictional stories and real-life narratives offer excellent opportunities for teaching empathy. Discuss the story you are reading with your child and focus on the hero’s emotions. These can be non threatening and free.
  • Simulate common difficulties and life challenges with your children. This way they can perceive how they feel playing the role which will help them understand other people better. We have some excellent age appropriate examples at our integrative family wellness center.
  • Practice recognizing facial expressions. Being empathic is hard if you can’t read someone’s face. Toddlers often misinterpret facial expressions. Show them pictures of people expressing different emotions and help them name each one of them correctly. We tend to use emotion flash cards in our integrative family wellness practice.
  • After a conflict, share emotions. Conflicts happen in every family. Maybe you got angry with your child for something they did, or perhaps they got in a fight with their sibling. Forgive yourself for expressing your emotions. Sometimes, a part of the healing process is reparenting yourself.
  • Once you’ve calmed down after the conflict, talk to your child about everyone’s emotions. This will enhance their empathy and also help them express their feelings more adaptively.

The moment you decide to teach empathy to children, you can be sure that you’re on the right path. Remember, each time you demonstrate empathy on your own, you are one step closer to having an emotionally well-developed child. Remember this is a process, sometimes you will be the teacher and sometimes the student in the process of self-learning.