As adults, we may know what it means to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” But does your child understand this?

Empathy is the ability to know how others are feeling. It also helps kids understand someone else’s point of view. By helping your child learn empathy, she can be more compassionate. She can also better understand and respect those who are different from her.

Below are some tips for helping your child develop empathy.

For younger children:

  • Promote bonding. Be a role model. Build a secure, loving relationship with your child. Be respectful toward others—your child will model your behavior.
  • Empathize with your child. Showing that you understand your child’s feelings helps him label emotions such as sadness, anger or disappointment. It also helps him learn how to cope. Talk about feelings as you play together so your child can practice empathy.
  • Go beyond “I’m sorry.” Young children may not make the connection between emotions and words. Get to your child’s eye level and explain why we say “I’m sorry.” For example, “Michael, look at your cousin. He is crying after you knocked over his tower. He’s sad. Let’s see how we can make him feel better.”  

For older children and teens:

  • Teach them the difference between empathy and sympathy. These two words do not mean the same thing. Sympathy is feeling sorry or sad for someone. Empathy is the ability to experience and understand the feelings of others.
  • Make compassion and understanding others’ feelings important every day. Be a good role model. Put the needs of others ahead of your own needs as much as you can.
  • Practice! Ask your children about problems they’re having at school or with their friends. Is there a friend struggling because she is unpopular? Is someone being teased about being different? Talk about how that person may be feeling and how your child may be able to help.

The St. Louis Children’s Hospital Family Resource Center can send you more helpful tools about empathy, including:

  • Information about encouraging empathy
  • bibliography list of books about empathy
  • Practice worksheets or exercises for preschoolers to high schoolers

If you would like any of these materials sent to you via email or mail, contact the Family Resource Center (FRC) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The FRC is 100-percent funded by generous donations to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation.

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