Empathy isn’t something babies are born with, rather, it’s a uniquely human trait that is developed in the formative early years of a child’s life. Understanding, and more importantly, expressing empathy is a result of developing social and emotional skills. Check out these 4 ways to encourage and develop empathy in your child.
- Practice what you preach. Children naturally mimic their caregivers’ actions. By modeling empathy, showing respect, and interacting with others in a kind and caring manner, you’re teaching empathy and your child will learn from your example.
- Teach your child about emotion, which can begin very early in infancy! Talk to your child about their emotions. If they’re crying, talk to them about why they’re sad or frustrated. If they’re laughing, playfully ask why they’re happy. Practice by mimicking emotions in the mirror with your child. As your child grows they’ll begin to understand emotions more clearly, continuing to develop social and emotional skills.
- Show empathy towards your child. When sadness, frustration, and anger occur, it’s important for parents to empathize with their children. If your child is upset, talk to them about how they’re feeling and ask them questions to help them understand their emotions.
- Provide your child with opportunities for practicing empathy. Grab a stuffed animal or doll, and roleplay various situations with your child. For example, “Mr. Bear said that his friend won’t share with him. How do you think Mr. Bear feels?” Talking to your child about the feelings of others (whether real, or in a Mr. Bear situation) will help them understand, analyze, and empathize with the emotions of others in real time situations.
Helping your child to build, and practice empathy will help to develop and strengthen their social and emotional skills that will carry with them throughout childhood, adolescents, and adulthood.
Kid-focused activities like The Little Gym can be a great option for real world social skill building for kids.