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Teaching Empathy to Children


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As parents, we hope our children will grow to be successful adults, but what exactly defines success? Financial prowess? Athletic ability? Most parents would list emotional and social competence near the top of the list. Developing emotional intelligence during child development and relating to others is perhaps more important than almost any other skill. Children who develop the traits of empathy and compassion early on are more likely to have happy, productive relationships in both their professional and personal lives as adults.

Fortunately, “the capacity for empathy and sympathy already exists in each child from infancy,” observed Rachel Robertson, Senior Director of Education and Development at Bright Horizons. “Infants demonstrate this capacity when they show sadness or cry when they hear another infant cry; older infants and toddlers sometimes offer their toy or blanket to a distressed peer.”

“It’s up to parents and teachers to nurture these instincts,” said Robertson, author of Healthy Children, Healthy Lives (2012), “and teaching empathy and compassion aren’t as difficult as it might sound.” Set a positive example in your life and watch for simple opportunities to reinforce those skills. Below are a few ideas to get you started on how to teach empathy to your kids:

Model Generosity of Spirit
Raising caring and giving children is a process and they learn more from what we do than what we say. When they’re treated with respect and kindness, they learn those characteristics themselves. Try to remember that children have limited life experiences. The occasional unkind remark, spat with a sibling, or full-on meltdown is part of their learning process. View these moments as teaching opportunities and respond with a firm, but loving and kind, response.

Get a Pet
Caring for a pet is a wonderful way for children to learn empathy for another creature. Choose a pet that is well-suited to your family’s lifestyle and let your child help you care for it.

Express Appreciation When Your Child Shows Empathy or Offers Service
Say, “I noticed how patient you were when Kate was feeling frustrated. I think that really made her feel better.”

Teach Children to Help Others & Look for Simple Opportunities to Serve in Your Neighborhood
Rake an elderly neighbor’s leaves or shovel a snowy sidewalk. Take a meal to a family after an illness or the birth of a baby. Buy extra school supplies for children in need or donate food to a food bank. Include your child in these activities and discuss how good it feels to serve someone else.

Create a Safe Zone to Talk About Negative Feelings
Feeling mad, sad, scared, or frustrated is part of the human experience. Teach your children how to talk about these feelings and find solutions. When kids have a healthy outlet for their emotional angst, they’re better able to develop and feel compassion and empathy for others

Help Your Child Understand Another’s Perspective
For example, when your elementary-age child quarrels with a friend, listen to her side of the story carefully and with empathy. Then say something like, “Hmm, that’s unlike Jenna to yell at you. I wonder if she was tired or if something else was bothering her. How do you think she was feeling?”

Developing compassion and empathy doesn’t happen overnight. For many of us, learning to establish positive relationships with others is a lifelong effort. But even very young children instinctively crave connections with others, and your small efforts to teach empathy can yield big results.

More on This Topic:

• Looking for opportunities to serve others and help teach empathy to your kids & family members? Find volunteering ideas for the entire family on our blog.
• Having a pet can be beneficial for many aspects of child development as well as for kid’s health. Learn more about the benefits of pets for kids.
• Growing Givers is a resource to help you find age-appropriate activities, projects, and volunteer opportunities to encourage empathy, caring, and compassion for the world and all its people.
• Learn how our parent bloggers encourage social responsibility with their children.


Bright Horizonsbright-horizons-1-200 is the leading provider of high-quality early education and preschool. Their programs empower children from infancy on to become confident, successful learners and secure, caring people. They strive to grow young readers, scientists, artists, and explorers who are engaged and curious. Bright Horizons' programs invite children to approach school and academics with skills, confidence, and a drive for excellence.

More than just early education, Bright Horizons is a place to discover the joy of learning and the confidence to actively participate in the classroom setting. Children learn about their world in a community of families and teachers who work together to help every child uncover and nurture her full potential.

Connect with them to learn more about their infant, toddler, preschool and kindergarten prep programs, find a location near you, and schedule your personal visit: Online | Facebook | Twitter | Contact.


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