How to teach empathy
Teaching empathy is important. But what is it? What does it look like? Why is it important? Empathy is the ability to notice and recognize the emotions of others. It is an active attempt to understand another person’s emotions. Empathy is an important social skill to have in order to connect with others. By connecting with others, relationships are formed but these connections don’t always happen naturally. The skills of understanding need to be modeled and taught. Here are some tips to teaching empathy.
The first tip to teaching empathy is recognizing the social expressions of others and oneself. By knowing others’ expressions, a person can then put themselves into the shoes of another person. We understand the emotion of sadness when we see it on others’ faces because we have experienced sadness. This helps us understand each other’s emotions, connect with one another, show compassion to one another and build lasting relationships. Once you know what social expressions mean, you will use empathy to be kind to others.
How does one go about teaching empathy to their child? Just like parents spending time explaining how to do a math problem or helping their child read, learning about empathy is spending time with your child. First, talk and model with your child the different facial expressions and gestures people make throughout the day. Use the five senses with your child when talking about different expressions and emotions seen throughout the day.
- What does it mean when someone smiles?
- What does it mean when someone is crying or has tears running down their face?
- How does it look when someone is mad?
In talking with your children, be very explicit when talking about emotions. Someone is probably feeling happy inside when they are laughing or have a smile on their face. If you hear someone laughing it probably means they are happy inside. On the other hand if you see someone with tears streaming down their face they are probably sad. Talking about emotions and how they are expressed help develop empathy in your child. This happens when your child can share another person’s emotions.
Use Visuals to Teach Empathy
A great tip for teaching empathy, especially for younger children, is using visuals. They will help children identify what emotions may look like. If a child does not recognize facial expressions or social cues it will be difficult to respond in an empathetic way. You can use photos with real people or visuals with expressions. Talk with your child about how the person in the picture feels. This will also help your child to feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
The next tip is to model empathy in your interactions. That means talking about what you see and how you feel in front of your child. Use “I” statements when talking to your child. Saying the words aloud with the emotions you are feeling will give them the vocabulary and the view of someone practicing empathy. By modeling empathy, your child will gain the capacity to have empathy.
Here are some ways to model empathy:
During an emotional interaction with your child:
- Use breathing techniques to gain your composure.
- Then in a calm voice speak your observations: “I see you are disappointed about leaving. I know it is hard to leave when you are having fun.”
- Then give wait time. Remain calm with a calm voice.
TEACH THEM WHY
After you explain what emotions look, feel and sound like, then you can talk about the WHY. They will observe you not judging others, but looking at people through the lens of a person observing. The WHY is helping your child put themselves in the perspective of another.
ASK QUESTIONS TO TEACH EMPATHY
- How do you think he or she is feeling?
- How do you know they are feeling that way?
- What do you think happened before for them to feel that way?
QUESTIONS ABOUT SELF
Next, help them to verbalize what they would do. For example, ask:
- What would you do if that happened to you?
- How would you feel?
- How would you express your feelings?
QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHERS
Then, help them to brainstorm ideas on how to help others:
- What could you do to help a friend?
- How could you help a friend if they felt sad?
- What could you do for a friend if they felt mad?
Reading as a way of teaching empathy
Many times it is easier to use other people’s experiences to learn about empathy. One way to do that would be to read books that relate to different experiences people or children have had. By reading the story together it gives you and your child some quality time. It also lets you have a discussion about the characters, what happened, and how they feel. Then you can talk about different ways to help the person or situation.
Steps to Teaching Empathy
- Help children to recognize emotions by using your senses.
- Model empathy.
- Practice empathy by observing others.
- Read books together on empathy. Discuss different scenarios together.
- Act on it. Show kindness by using the perspective of others.
Ways to Encourage Empathy
- Talk about what empathy is.
- Teach your child to respond with empathy when other kids act out with negative behavior.
- Model empathy.
- Play games that teach empathy.
- Discuss stories, situations and responses
Empathy is a life skill that can be taught at any age. The benefits of teaching, modeling, and practicing empathy builds self-confidence in your child and helps them to sustain positive relationships with others. Empathy is honoring a person’s feelings. Encouraging children to develop empathy improves their relationships and contributes to their current and future happiness. These tips for teaching empathy will get you started on the journey.
Resources for teaching empathy (BOOKS, VIDEOS…)
- The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
- Hey Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
- One by Katherine Otoshi
- Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson
- Elmer by David McKee
- Enemy Pie by Derek Munsen
- A Wrinkled Heart by Tracy Hoexter
- Have You Filled Your Bucket Today? By Carol McCloud
- Wonder by R.J. Palocio
- Rainbow Fish to the Rescue by Marcus Pfister
- Pet the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses by Kimberly and James Dean
- Sesamestreet:Mark Ruffalo:Empathy https://youtu.be/9_1Rt1R4xbM
- Kid President: 20 things we should say more of. https://youtu.be/m5yCOSHeYn4
- Singa and the kindness cubbies/Epz-empathy.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ptj7q6_9lzQ