Empathy and compassion are at the heart of what it means to be human. Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, while compassion is showing kindness and care for others.
Teaching your kids these skills not only makes for kind and caring children, but many studies have shown that empathy and compassion are essential to building healthy, happy relationships and doing well in school. These two skills are also important factors in teaching kids what bullying is and how not to engage in bullying behavior, something that is more important now than ever.
Children are hard-wired to care about others. You can see this when they help a friend who fell or make you a handmade gift at school. By fostering your children’s natural instincts towards empathy and compassion, you can encourage your kids to further develop these essential life skills. Today, I’m going to share seven simple and interesting ways you can teach your children about empathy and compassion.
Playing a game called “in your shoes” is a fun, engaging way to teach your children about empathy and compassion. Have your child put on someone else’s shoes and try to walk in them. Ask them, “How does it feel? Is it easy? Does it feel comfortable?” When your child can practice being in someone else’s shoes, it becomes easier for them to think about how another person feels.
As a parent, children are always looking up to you as an example. Model how you show empathy for others by understanding how another person is feeling and actively listening to them. Make it a priority to show your child how much you care about others.
You can also look for opportunities to empathize with your child or offer them compassion. When your child is upset, acknowledge their feelings. Then mirror back to them how they’re feeling so they feel “felt” and understood. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your child about the importance of listening to other people and offering kindness when they’re upset.
Notice when someone demonstrates empathy or compassion, or shows a lack of empathy or compassion, and point it out to your child. The examples could come from real life or in movies/TV. Use the examples as opportunities to talk with your child about why it’s so important to consider other people’s feelings and offer them kindness, and why having a lack of empathy and compassion can be hurtful.
Help your child to become more aware of their own feelings. Notice their feelings and ask them “Are you feeling happy right now?” “Are you feeling sad?” “Tell me why you’re feeling sad.” By helping your child notice their own emotions, they’re more likely to be able to notice emotions in others and offer empathy and compassion in those moments.
Praise your child when you notice them naturally demonstrating compassionate or empathetic behavior. Positive reinforcement will make your child more likely to do something similar in the future. You can also encourage your child to offer empathy or compassion if an opportunity arises. For example, if someone in your family is unwell, you could suggest that your child makes them a card. Once they’re finished, tell your child what a kind gesture making the card was and how much it will mean to the recipient.
When your child sees something happening to another child, as them how they might feel if that happened to them. As an example, let’s say that Jake took Max’s toy. Ask your child, “How would you feel if someone took your toy?” When they answer, you can discuss with them if they think Max is feeling that same way right now. Then you can ask, “So, Max is feeling sad. How could you help him to feel better?” This type of dialogue is great for encouraging your child to consider other people’s feelings.
As your child demonstrates their ability to offer empathy in your home, consider expanding your focus to your community. Volunteering with your child offers the perfect opportunity for them to develop a sense of empathy or compassion for those less fortunate than them. You could gather things from your house to donate, volunteer at an animal shelter or soup kitchen, or participate in a food or toy drive. Afterward, talk with your child about the importance of having empathy and compassion for people outside your circle of family and friends and those that are less fortunate.
There are countless things your child could do to show others in their community that they care. Experiment with fun, crafty activities, such as writing kind words on rocks and giving them as gifts or making homemade playdough to share at school. Or, if you notice an elderly neighbor unloading their groceries, suggest that your child goes over and helps them unload. The opportunities for exercising kindness are truly endless.
Start the journey towards greater empathy and compassion
With continued practice and encouragement, empathy and compassion will become natural reflexes in your children. Developing these two life skills not only has the potential to improve your child’s success and happiness over their lifetime but also helps make a positive difference in the world at large.
Looking for more helpful tips for raising happy little humans? Download our free Children’s Empowerment Kit which includes an Alphabet for Humanity Printable Poster, a 101 Acts of Kindness + Compassion PDF, and a Positive Affirmations Printable Poster.