Having empathy for others is an element of emotional intelligence and young children can be supported in learning to develop the ability to feel what others are feeling.
Here are 9 tips for helping young children develop empathy:
- Model empathy for others. Demonstrate for children the expression of empathy by noting aloud the feelings of others. Show empathy for children when they are expressing various emotions.
- Have conversations about emotions regularly. Make it a part of your children’s’ everyday experience to hear and participate in conversations that include noting what people are feeling in real life, on television or in books that you read together.
- Use feelings flash cards… and you thought flash cards were just for math test prep! You can purchase feelings flash cards at www.fanatic4feelings.com Looking at the faces together and teaching your child words to match the different emotions humans can have will help build their feeling vocabulary and hone empathy skills.
- Play with puppets. Puppets are always a fantastic way to facilitate children to explore, express and experience a variety of emotional responses. Children tend to easily imagine what a puppet is feeling. They are also more likely to talk with a puppet directly about feelings.
- Engage in somatic awareness. The word soma means body. Emotions are often felt, stored, and expressed throughout the body. Examples include facial expressions, the way we hold our arms or the way we move. By matching emotions to sensations felt and observed in your child’s body and in your own body facilitates a greater ability to feel and identify what others are feeling.
- Help your child recognize commonalities. Reflect aloud about what children have in common with other children. A child will feel more readily able to empathize with others like themselves. While it’s also important to acknowledge and celebrate our differences, noticing what we have in common can be a big step toward connecting with others.
- Teach perspective taking. It’s important to model for children your own ability to imagine what it must be like to be in someone else’s shoes and to seek to understand their perspective. When we are able to wonder aloud what another person is thinking and feeling and try to understand the reasons for what their actions, this goes a long way in developing empathy skills.
- Actively listen to what your child has to say and reflect their feelings back to them. Staying present in the moment with your child can be a challenge at times. We all have never ending to do lists running through our brains. However, listening and then reflecting back the feelings your child is experiencing demonstrates the receiving side of empathy for them.
- Remind them everyone has a story. We’ve all heard the saying there’ 3 sides to a story, yours, mine, and the truth. Encourage your children to find common ground with friends AND emphasize the respect of differences.
Helping young children show empathy for others is a process that takes time to learn and requires practice. Remember that play is the best way for children to explore concepts and try out new ways of thinking and doing. With playful efforts that focus on helping children hone their empathy skills, you can begin to influence the development of children’s emotional intelligence early in life.
Looking for a place to start building empathy in your child? Grab my book, Emily’s Emotional Empathy at www.fanatic4feelings.com.