Want to raise a kind, compassionate child? Here are some tips on how to teach your children kindness and empathy!
What is empathy? Simply put, it is the ability to see and understand someone else’s thoughts and feelings from their point of view.
Since we are part of the human family, empathy fosters our connection with other people and helps us form meaningful relationships which also contribute to our happiness.
Not only that, but empathy is an important part of having high emotional intelligence (EI). Since a high EI is linked to a more successful (and happy) life, you should ensure that you do what you can to help your kids develop empathy.
Here are some simple things you can do to teach your children kindness and empathy:
1. Model Empathy
Children learn first by observing everything around them. What you model is what they will absorb. You need to model empathy, especially for those people different from you (culture, background, race, etc.).
So much of what we, as parents, do is modeling. We model how to eat in a restaurant, behave properly in the grocery store, and resolve conflicts with other people. In order to teach empathy, we also have to model it for our children.
How can we do this? By showing empathy to others (and also empathizing with your children).
Showing warmth and understanding to your kids during difficult emotions is a BIG help. I have seen my 4-year-old copy my comforting techniques with my 2-year-old when she’s sad or upset. She will hug her little sister and use the exact same comforting words with her that I use.
You can use opportunities from your daily life with your kids to model empathy for others.
- Describe what is happening: “The little girl is crying.”
- Ask: “How is she feeling?” or “Do you think she’s sad or angry?”
- Discuss: “What would help her feel better?” If your child can’t answer this, then you can ask “When you are sad or upset what helps you feel better?”
2. Empathize with your child
You can show empathy to your children by acknowledging and accepting their feelings:
- You seem upset. How can I help?
- I can see you are sad. It’s ok to cry. Do you want a hug?
- Are you angry? That would make me feel angry too, but it’s not ok to hit.
You can also express empathy for other people in front of them. Talk with them about how other people (especially other kids) feel:
- Did you see how your sister looked when you took the toy from her?
- How do you think she felt?
- How would you feel if that happened to you?
- That boy is crying because he fell and hurt himself.
3. Talk about thoughts, feelings, behaviors
Talk with your children about their (and your) feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and how they are all related.
In previous generations, children were expected to be quiet and not talk, but it’s important for children to learn how to talk about their feelings and learn how to process them so they can develop healthy ways of dealing with difficult emotions.
Help them make connections:
- You were angry, so you threw that block at your sister.
- It’s ok to be angry, but not ok to throw things.
- You need to tell her “I feel upset because you knocked down my tower” or you can ask me for help.
We practice this ALL the time in my house (it’s hard and gets repetitive, but your children will learn). If my daughters are arguing or fighting, I will stop them from hurting each other and then role-play what to do: Say what they feel, ask for what they need, and ask me for help if needed.
4. Notice when they are empathic
- That was kind of you to help your sister!
- Thank you for noticing that I needed help folding the laundry!
- I saw that you helped the girl who was crying.
5. Meet their emotional needs
Little children can be challenging because they have BIG emotions and little self-control. Part of our job as parents is helping them navigate the rocky world of emotions. If we are able to meet their own emotional needs, then we can help them learn to regulate their emotions and become better at being sensitive to the emotions and needs of others.
6. Teach them to identify their own feelings
Talking about and naming feelings with your children helps them:
- understand what is happening to them
- learn that feelings aren’t bad
- relate to others who might be experiencing similar feelings
- develop emotional intelligence
7. Teach them to solve problems on their own
You can teach children how to solve problems by taking the time to talk through emotions and showing them step by step how to calmly navigate conflict. Yes, this takes a lot of patience and perseverance but will pay big dividends in the long run.
I do this repeatedly with my 2 daughters. Even though they are little and very often make mistakes, I have definitely seen the benefits when they choose to do and say the right thing sometimes (instead of yelling and fighting).
8. Help them learn to manage feelings
When big feelings overwhelm your young child, your first priority (besides safety) should be to help them navigate their emotions. Children need to be actively taught “constructive” ways to manage their bad moods and challenging feelings.
Here’s an example: I’ve often used the little song from the PBS Daniel Tiger show: “When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” When one of my girls is angry, I might sing the song (or remind them of it) and then we practice breathing and counting to four. (Lots of practice!)
9. Healthy, secure attachment to you
Your children should know they can count on you for help with big emotions and physical safety. This helps them feel secure and learn to have sympathy for others.
10. Teach them to relate to others
Model healthy relationships with others. Talk about what your kids have in common with other people. Make friends with people from other cultures and races and have a world view of the entire family of humans and how we relate to each other.
Be an example by modeling how to manage conflict in a healthy way and demonstrating constructive ways to deal with emotions.
You can use almost any story as a lesson on empathy. Discuss how the characters feel about the situations. Have your child imagine that he is in the story and ask how he would feel. You can role-play the situations in the story.
You can also choose specific stories that show characters modeling empathy and talk about them.
Remember to model everything that you want your children to do. Teaching your children empathy starts with you. If you show empathy to your children (and to other people), your children will notice. You can teach your children kindness and empathy. I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you know any great books for teaching kids empathy? Please share in the comments below.
- Model Empathy
- Empathize with your child
- Talk about feelings, thoughts, and behaviors
- Notice when your kids are empathic
- Meet your kids’ emotional needs
- Teach them to identify their own feelings
- Teach them to solve problems on their own
- Help them learn to manage their feelings
- Foster a healthy, secure attachment to you
- Teach them how to relate to others
- Read stories