Dad dot info
DAD.info form. Ask questions, get answers

How to Teach Your Children Empathy

Former teacher and contributor to Buzzparent.com, Matt Morrisey, shares some top tips for teaching your children empathy…

I often get frustrated when taking to other parents or teachers about children’s education, as so much of the discourse revolves around ‘academic’ and ‘school’ learning. It’s great that our kids can learn about science with STEM toys before they’re toilet-trained, but no one ever seems to talk about helping children to develop truthfulness, a sense of justice or empathy. 

Children need to learn moral behaviour and principles just as much as numbers and letters, and a strong sense of empathy will be one of the cornerstones of a caring, responsible and kind adult. However, just like maths and science, a child’s potential for empathy needs to be nurtured and encouraged. Science has even shown that there are specific parts of the brain that deal with empathy and that compassion can be trained, so let’s get the training started immediately with a few ideas to encourage empathy in your children.    

1. Teach kids words that describe emotions

To appreciate empathy, your little one needs to understand what emotions are and have a vocabulary to express them. This can begin with very simple everyday conversations about how they or you are feeling:

“I can see that you are disappointed because we can’t go to the park today.”

“Are you excited that grandpa is coming to stay for the week?”

“I’m frustrated because the bad traffic made me get home from work late. It makes me sad because I have less time to spend with you.”

Scientific research has shown that understanding emotions and knowing the words to describe them helps people to control themselves and makes them less likely to hurt others. Therefore, helping your child to understand how they and others feel and giving them the words to express these feelings will be an important first step in teaching empathy.

2. Help children ‘read’ faces

According to psychological studies, the ability to ‘read’ emotions in faces is an important part of developing empathy. However, younger children and toddlers often find it difficult to recognise people’s facial expressions, making it hard to empathise.

Playing simple games with children, such as picking out the feelings of people in picture books or magazines, or acting out emotions with them in role play, will help them learn to recognise facial expressions, a key tool they need for empathic behaviour.

3. Praise and encourage empathic behaviour in kids

When you see your child showing empathy, praise this behaviour, and make it clear that they understand why you are doing so. For example:

“It was very kind of you to let your little sister play with your trucks today. She was upset, and you really cheered her up.”

In this way, you can positively reinforce this kind of good behaviour and encourage them to continue. Please be aware, though, that studies have shown that rewarding good behaviour with presents or money actually makes children less likely to be helpful or generous. 

4. Discuss TV shows and books

Discussing other people’s emotions will contribute a lot to your children’s emotional development. For example, every good kid’s book will have characters showing emotions in the story, and you can start with simple questions like: “How does the rabbit feel here?” and “Why do you think he feels that way?”. 

These discussions can then move into real-life examples, like things that happen at nursery or school, and will help your child think about how others feel, and how their actions can affect them.

5. Teach kids respect and tolerance for all

Studies have shown that humans in general are much more likely to empathise with those they feel familiar with or connected to.  Therefore, as a parent, you need to teach your child to respect others, and help them to understand how their actions can make others feel happy or sad. Teaching children respect for the elderly, adult men and women, different religions and ethnic groups, and also encouraging them to respect the similarities between us will help them to show empathy and compassion for all. Focus on what unites us, not on what separates us.

6. Be a role model for empathy

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
  — James Baldwin

Children learn through imitation, consciously and unconsciously, and genuinely demonstrating empathy, tolerance and care for other’s well-being will set the strongest foundation for your child. 

However, parents who preach empathy but are argumentative and intolerant with each other and the family will only confuse their children. Worse still, the children’s natural tendency to imitate their parent’s behaviour can easily win over following what their parents say, so don’t underestimate the impact of the example you set.  

Links for further reading: 

parentingscience.com/helpful-kids-and-rewards.html

parentingscience.com/facial-expressions-for-kids.html

psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy

psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy

Matt Morrisey is a former teacher and a regular contributor to parenting blogs and websites including buzzparent.com, where he writes about topics ranging from kids’ toys and activities to parenting life hacks. He is currently studying a PhD.

 

 

Related entries

Teamwork – How to Get Your Toddler Involved

Teamwork – How to Get Your Toddler Involved

Every family learns that successful teamwork involving both the parents and the kids leads to a happier and calmer home. Dad, Balint Horvath founder of Project Father wonders how young is too young to start? Children actually love to participate in family life from as...

The joy of parenting

The joy of parenting

  Well it can be joyful at times, but let’s face it, raising children is also hard and most of us have looked around for the missing instruction manual that might help us develop a better relationship with our toddler or teenager. Dad.Info is part of a family of...

The After School Meltdown

The After School Meltdown

I’m sure we’ve all been there. It is after school, the screaming is so loud you are genuinely worried the neighbours might call the police. You have barely said a word but your child is shouting at you/smacking the floor/slamming all the doors. Is After School...

Latest entries

10 tips to support your child after break-up

10 tips to support your child after break-up

In 2020 Dad.info ran a survey asking 1000 separated parents about their experiences of divorce or separation and they generously shared their concerns and most importantly their tried and tested solutions. If you are looking for ways to save your children from being...

We Support The Parents Promise

We Support The Parents Promise

More couples discuss what they would do if they won the lottery than how they would co-parent their children if they separated.  87% of couples have talked about how they would spend a lottery win. Just 5% admit to having discussed potential parenting...

ASK DEBBIE- MY DAUGHTER DOESN’T WANT TO SEE ME

ASK DEBBIE- MY DAUGHTER DOESN’T WANT TO SEE ME

Dads, do you struggle sometimes? Who do you reach out to for help? Debbie Pattison, a qualified counsellor at Fegans can answer your questions. Send them in to Ask Debbie at info@dad.info and if she can she will answer. Today’s question is about problems in...

Pin It on Pinterest