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.

Parents who know how to foster empathy in their children weren’t born with this knowledge - they learned and applied it. And you can too!

This skill 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.

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.”

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?

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.

Any parent who is capable of being kind and shows compassion already provides their children with a good foundation of empathy.

Here are 6 ways to teach your child the art of compassion and empathy:

1. Teach about emotions.
Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize, differ, and name various emotions correctly is the key to future empathy.

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.

2. 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.

3. Inspire curiosity for similarities.
Kids feel greater empathy for familiar individuals and people who are more similar to them.

Make your children aware of characteristics or experiences that they have in common with others.

Allow them to meet people from different backgrounds so they can hear their stories and identify with them.

4. 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.

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.

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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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 your child empathy, 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.

Related Reading: Emotional Intelligence- EQ online self help guide

Emotional Intelligence: What It Is, What’s In It For You, and How to Get It

Emotional intelligence leads to more beneficial social interactions at home, with friends, around strangers, and at work.

High emotional intelligence means you typically know what you are feeling, why you may feel that way, and how you manage uncomfortable emotions.

Emotional intelligence helps you manage emotions and communicate them effectively.

It means you can identify your emotions and where they come from. You are able to see patterns and understand what’s going on beyond the surface issue.

Being able to understand your emotions helps you separate from them.

Emotional intelligence pays off in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships.

Overall, strengthening your emotional intelligence helps you to manage your emotions more effectively and relieves stress.

Strengthening your emotional intelligence is just like improving any other skill! With practice, you can have an easier time relating to, understanding, and responding to others.

Because emotional intelligence develops empathy, it brings you closer to others.

There are four categories of emotional intelligence you can develop:

1. Self-management.

You can manage your emotions. You are able to think clearly in situations where you feel stressed, anxious, or angry.

Self-management indicates being able to separate yourself and how you should act from your emotions.

2. Self-awareness.

You recognize how your beliefs and emotions affect your thoughts and behavior.

This awareness helps your ability to make changes to negative habits.

3. Social awareness.

You can understand what others need to feel comfortable.

Social awareness indicates how well you pick up on social cues or needs.

4. Relationship management.

You manage conflict well, work well with others, and develop positive relationships overall.

Relational management indicates good interpersonal skills.

But what does improving emotional intelligence look like in everyday life?

These strategies will help you to grow your emotional intelligence:

1. Build your emotional vocabulary.

Emotional intelligence means building your emotional vocabulary so you can identify (and explore) how you feel. Some example vocabulary words are:

● Happy
● Sad
● Angry
● Hurt
● Guilty
● Embarrassed
● Confident
● Energized

2. Think before you react.

Sometimes we are keen to react to a triggering event very quickly.

While you cannot control your emotions, you can control how you choose to react to those emotions.

If you notice yourself starting to feel stressed, sad, or angry, pause for a moment to allow yourself to respond appropriately rather than just react.

3. Pay attention to the way you manage emotions and stress.

As you develop your awareness of your emotions, how do you react to them afterwards?

● What are your emotional strengths and weaknesses?

● How does your mood influence your thoughts and decision-making?

● What ways do you manage stress? When a stressful situation comes, are you able to manage your emotions and follow through on commitments you made?

4. Receive criticism with grace and give constructive feedback.

Feedback is a chance to learn and grow. See criticism as an opportunity to reflect about yourself.

Give constructive feedback to others to help them grow.

5. Pay attention to nonverbal communication.

Social awareness indicates how well you pick up on others’ social cues or needs.

Learn to read what others’ nonverbal cues might say about how they feel.

6. See conflict as an opportunity to learn and understand more about others.

Conflict is inevitable. Instead of avoiding it, take conflict as an opportunity to understand where another person is coming from.

Emotional intelligence can help you manage stress and emotions and build better relationships.

When you can read situations (high social awareness) and manage relationships, it helps you advance in life.

Overall, strengthening your emotional intelligence will make you a better teammate, friend, and partner!

Related Reading: Emotional Intelligence- EQ online self help guide

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