The Importance of Empathy


It is very important to teach empathy at a young age. This allows the child a positive way to relate and connect to others which will affect their world view and development. Learning about empathy and encouraging it in children helps their social, emotional and academic development. Children are more likely to have positive relationships, a better understanding of situations as well as an easier time when facing challenges. If children don't learn empathy, life can be hard. They have a harder time following rules, making friends, completing school work and developing growth mindset.


Why is it important to teach children empathy at a young age? How might they benefit? What can happen if they don’t learn empathy?

It is very important to teach empathy at a young age.  This allows the child a positive way to relate and connect to others which will affect their world view and development.  Learning about empathy and encouraging it in children helps their social, emotional and academic development.  Children are more likely to have positive relationships, a better understanding of situations as well as an easier time when facing challenges.  If children don't learn empathy, life can be hard.  They have a harder time following rules, making friends, completing school work and developing growth mindset.


What steps can parents take to teach young children (what age ranges?) to be empathetic? Parents can start teaching empathy immediately by talking about feelings from the very start and saying what you see for the child.  "I see you're sad and confused."  "Wow, this makes you happy."  This helps the child develop emotional literacy.  When a child can understand what is going on for them then it is easier to relate those feelings to another person.  When the child is starting to notice others, then you can start saying what you see out in the world.  "Oh she looks sad. I wonder what happened."  When the child is old enough to converse, you can ask your child how he/she thinks someone is feeling based on either their face, body position or situation.  This can be done while reading a book, out at the park or watching a show.  By age three, a parent should really be emphasizing empathy since this is when children begin to understand the concept of sharing and they will be in more environments where peers are around whether it's in a classroom, a gym class or a birthday party .  It's important to reflect with your child, "How would you feel if someone did that to you?" so they can now see how that person is feeling and then put themselves in that situation.  These conversations should take place regularly in a calm manner so your child can take in the information.  If your child does something showing that they were lacking empathy in a situation, it's also important to reflect with your child in a calm manner and try to practice re-doing the moment so they have a chance to learn the skill.


Are there additional opportunities to show compassion/empathy during the holidays? 

Volunteering and making gifts or cards to those that are less fortunate as well as friends and family to express love and gratitude are ways to develop and show compassion and empathy.  Brainstorm with your child about ideas of how they would like to show they care so they feel empowered in their compassionate actions and can take ownership of their ideas.  


How can parents model empathetic behavior?

Parents are modeling all the time so thinking out loud is very important so your child can understand your logic.  "I'm going to  Mary's house to drop off some soup because she isn't feeling well and I want to help her get better."  Volunteering, being a good friend, being kind and respectful as well as creating space for conversations about feelings and openly discussing your feelings are all ways parents can model empathetic behavior.


What can a child do to express empathy toward others?

Do kind things for others, check in with people that may look sad or down, offer help, learn how to apologize and take responsibility.



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