Empathy – the ability to place oneself in the shoes of others – is an incredibly important skill for children to develop. However, it’s not a skill that comes easily to most. Citizen Times reports that kids are naturally self-centered, especially in their early years, and not inclined to think about the needs of others. Perhaps that’s one reason why Proverbs 22:6 says:
Train up a child in the way he should go,
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
Clearly, children need to learn how to become sensitive to other people’s feelings at an early age. We need to teach our kids how to regulate their emotions, recognize the impact their words and actions have on others, and build stronger relationships throughout their childhood.
Sound like a tall order? It needn’t be. Here are a few creative steps we can take to cultivate empathy in our kids.
One way that children learn behavior is by observing and copying the actions of the adults around them. This was proven back in the 1960s when social cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura conducted a series of experiments. During these experiments, kids were exposed to aggressive behavior by adults. Later, they exhibited the same aggressive behavior.
Fortunately, the opposite is also true: children learn empathy when they see it modeled by us. This means that if we want our children to develop healthy relationships with others, we need to model empathic behavior at all times.
One way we can demonstrate empathy is by maintaining strong, respectful relationships and interacting with people in a caring way. Another way we can model empathy is to show our kids how to properly approach someone who is distressed. For instance, when our children are sad or angry, we shouldn’t scold them or force them to stop crying. Instead, we should listen to their problems, teach them that their emotions are natural, and guide them on the best ways to manage their feelings.
Another way we can help our kids learn empathy is by letting them experience it for themselves in a variety of situations, using role play to simulate specific events. We can leverage our children’s vast imaginations by allowing them to enact scenarios that require them to give or receive empathy.
For example, let your kids imagine they are a transfer student arriving in a new school at the start of a new year. When they role play the student, have them imagine how they would feel being alone in a new school where they don’t know anyone and have no friends. How would they want others to treat them?
Then have them step into the role of the returning student. Ask your child how would react if they saw a new student sitting alone during lunch? Would they introduce themselves,, sit with them, and make them feel welcome? Or would they be so busy tending to their own needs that they would overlook the needs of the new student?
By inviting your children step into other people’s shoes and act out a fragment of their lives, they can better understand and respond to the emotions that others might feel in that moment. A study shared by Symptomfind.com highlights how children who role play learn to be vulnerable and read people better. Eventually, they become more sensitive to others which, in turn, helps them become more empathic.
Read Them Stories
A third way we can help our kids become more empathetic while making learning interesting and interactive is to read them stories that require them to empathize with the characters. Encourage your children to identify the emotions the characters are expressing in the illustrations. Ask your kids what emotions these characters might be feeling as the story unfolds. Show concern over the characters’ well-being during major turning points in the story so they can learn how to properly respond to various types of situations.
Need help finding stories? HuffPost.com has created a list of 35 books to get you started. On their list you’ll find titles such as The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët. By exposing them to books like these, you can help your child better understand emotions contextually. This will help them more easily empathize with people as they navigate in the real world.
Teach Them To Pray
If we want to make the world a better place, we need to change how we view and treat others. We need to teach our children that every person has a story worth listening to and show them how to support those in need. Prayer is a wonderful way to do this.
Prayer helps children to become more empathetic with others. It encourages them to think and care for others, even when they are not around. It also provides them with a way to connect to the most empathetic person in the universe – our Heavenly Father. If you are looking for a book that can help your children become more empathic through prayer, we recommend 99 Prayers For Children.
Raising empathetic children requires time, intentionality and commitment from you, but it is well worth the effort, especially when you see your kids grow into caring, selfless citizens who are ready to make a difference in the lives of others,
Copyright © 2021 by Create With Joy. All Rights Reserved.
If you see this content posted elsewhere, please contact the site owner.
Thank you for helping to prevent content theft!
I feel bad for the little ones now, what they are observing these days is awful.
I couldn’t agree more!
Great idea! I think modeling is key!! I need to work on that.
We all do Mirelle – thanks for sharing! 🙂
YES!!! As a teacher in a Christian school, this is something I find myself teaching often. These little creatures find it hard to imagine what others are feeling. Empathy is so important! Thanks for linking up to #trafficjamweekend ~Tracy
What a wonderful vocation Tracy – appreciate your feedback! 🙂
Such an important trait to develop in our children. Great tips. All the tips are easy to incorporate into everyday life. Reading and discussing with my kids were two of my favorite ways.
Thanks Theresa for your feedback and sharing your favorite ways of implementing these steps with us! 🙂
what a beautiful, thoughtful encouragement! we can never start modeling the love of Jesus too early to our little ones …
Yes, Linda, yes! 🙂
This is a very relatable post. I often wonder how we can all be so callous.
By beholding we become changed is so true here.
I recently learned that there are studies suggesting that the more screen time, the less ability to demonstrate empathy. It just makes us much more self-centered. I can take that to heart as well.
Thank you for this thoughtful post.
Ridge Haven Homestead.
By the way, I do t know if you attend other blog hops, but I would like it if you would share this on the Homestead Blog Hop. I feel like it is so important to focus on more than just the temporal ideas—what to eat and how our homes look, although those things are interesting. But I like a little bit of serious, eternal subject matter in the mix as well.
Here’s the link if you decide to share. Starts Wednesday and goes til Sunday.
Thanks so much Laurie for sharing the studies re: screen time (so important to know!) and for the invitation to your blog hop.
I don’t normally allow links in the comments as it often causes broken link issues down the road (I made an exception for you this one time) but I do encourage you to share the link to your part at Inspire Me Monday and Friendship Friday each week as we definitely encourage bloggers to support one another here!
Have a blessed week! 🙂
Sorry about the link.
I’m glad to see you did come and share at the Homestead Blog Hop!
I am just thankful that there is a community out there for bouncing ideas off of, and for encouraging each other.
Ridge Haven Homestead
This is such a beautfiul post! Empathetic children grow up to be empathetic adults, and our world can definitely use more of those! Great reminders for all of us. 💖
Thanks Pam! Children live what they learn! 🙂
These ways are so good to teach children how to be empathetic! We definitely need more empathy in this world.
This is a very relevant and important issue to be highlighted esp in today’s time. Children are exposed to all sorts of behaviour by watching what people are posting online. And I couldn’t agree more about teaching them to pray. Praying is like a guiding light! Thank you for sharing this
My pleasure Elvira!
Great ideas. Modeling is key. So wonderfully spoken. Blessings.
This is one of my favorites.
Thank you for sharing this with Sweet Tea & Friends this month.
We all need to be more empathetic!
What great suggestions! My toddler responds really well to role play and reading stories where there kindness and empathy is displayed. It is such a sweet blessing to see him grow in empathy
So glad you found these helpful Elena!
Yes what a blessing it must be to see your child grow in empathy and compassion!
Love this so much! It is true!
Thanks Karin! Enjoy your week!
Great post!! I spent 35 years in Early Childhood Education and spent 5 years training professionals. You hit the nail on the head with empathy. I might also add, limit electronics. Studies have shown that using electronics to communicate more than face to face limits the development of the pre-frontal cortex – the part of the brain that develops empathy. Children need a lot of eye to eye contact to develop the that part of the brain. Although it’s most important in pre-teens and teens, as that’s when that part of the brain really forms.
Thanks for a great post.
Great tip Helen – so glad you shared this!
I think that’s a huge problem today.
We have to actively foster interpersonal communication – something we once took for granted!
Such a great post and so important in today’s world! The ability to empathize is something we all need to fine tune throughout our lives. Thanks for sharing!