Empathy – the awareness of and ability to share the feelings of others – is a very abstract, difficult task to teach to young children.
In order for a child to demonstrate appropriate empathetic behavior towards someone else, he must fully understand the broad range of emotions he feels on a daily basis, appreciate that other people might have different feelings than his own, be able to put himself in another person’s shoes and understand how they might be feeling, and choose an appropriate response. He must also have a certain degree of self-awareness and self-control so that he can put someone else’s emotions before his own.
As you can imagine, developing empathy in kids is definitely not something that happens overnight, and while some people grow up to be more compassionate than others, research suggests our experiences can either help or hinder our ability to empathize with others, and that parents and caregivers play a pivotal role in teaching compassion to kids.
So, how do you teach empathy to a child?
While empathy takes a certain amount of maturity to fully grasp and comprehend, there are lots of empathy activities for kids you can try both in the classroom and at home to help develop feelings of compassion in young children, but before we get to those, let’s take a closer look at empathy and what it means for our little ones.
Why is empathy important?
We’re all born with the capacity to be empathetic towards others, but our ability to develop a strong sense of empathy really boils down to how much practice we get, and since empathy plays a huge role in our ability (or inability) to form meaningful relationships with our peers, classmates, and co-workers, it’s a skill that can set us up for long-term success if taught correctly.
When do children learn empathy?
While research suggests that kids aren’t fully capable of ‘taking a walk in someone else’s shoes’ until they are about 7-years-old, a child’s experiences early in life are said to play a much bigger role in developing empathy than we think. When parents take the time to teach their kids simple emotions, model empathetic behavior, and provide positive reinforcement when their child shows compassion, they are helping to build the foundation needed to identify with the feelings of others.
How do children learn empathy?
We’ve already laid the groundwork on how to teach empathy to children (see full post here), and thanks to the wonderful world of Pinterest, we’ve taken it a step further and found 19 simple and fun empathy activities for kids to help teach little learners about kindness and compassion.
Preschool Empathy Building | Sugar Spice and Glitter
An Object Lesson in Honesty for Kids | Over the Big Moon
10 Ways for Kids to Be Kind to Animals | Sunny Day Family
10 Ways to Help Your Child Set and Respect Boundaries | The Jenny Evolution
101 Natural Acts of Kindness | Natural Beach Living
A Paper Chain of Kindness | Sugar Spice and Glitter
Alternative Advent Calendar – 50 Acts of Kindness | Mum in the Mad House
Printable Empathy Game | Moments a Day
Kindness Jar Project | Pretty Opinionated
Empathy X-Ray | Art of Social Work
Quick as a Cricket Empathy Activity | The OT Tool Box
Kindness Rocks | Mother Nature Network
Empathy Building Game | Art of Social Work
Kind Words Sensory Lesson | Preschool Powol Packets
Random Acts of Kindness Ideas | Confessions of a School Counselor
Feelings Identification Activities | Kiddie Matters
5 Ways to Teach Kids About Emotions | HoJo’s Teaching Adventures
Empathy Scenarios | Teaching in Room 6
If you’re trying to raise an empathetic child, try to think of empathy as a muscle. Everyone has the capacity to develop compassion towards others, but it’s up to parents, caregivers, and teachers to find opportunities to teach kids how to understand the needs and emotions of others so they can develop and maintain healthy relationships throughout their lives.
If you and your child enjoyed this collection of empathy activities for kids, please share it on Pinterest!
And if you’re looking for more ways to have fun at home, please follow our Kids Activities board where we share all of the fun ideas we find on Pinterest each week!