Child Development: 3 Ideas for Teaching Empathy to Kids

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Two girls holding hands walking The ability to see the world from someone else’s point of view is a key milestone of child development and a critical skill in forming healthy relationships. Parents can nurture their children’s empathy with these fun learning experiences:

Simple Ways to Nurture a Child's Empathy

Take a Walk in My Shoes

The next time your kids are bickering, use the back and forth as an opportunity to teach them about empathy and point of view.

  1. First, call a time out on the action.
  2. Next, tell each child that you actually want their arguing to continue and are going to say “Time In” momentarily, but first, they need to make one big change: instead of speaking their own point of view, they are going to jump back into the argument by pleading their sibling’s case.
  3. You’ll get a pair of very strange looks—and perhaps a laugh or two that will help diffuse the emotion of the moment—but assure your kids that you are serious.
  4. Call “Time In” and coach your kids to take a walk in each other’s shoes for a while, arguing from the point of view that they just opposed moments ago.
  5. After 1-2 minutes, ask your kids how it felt to switch perspectives.

This out of the ordinary argument can be a powerful learning experience for kids in developing empathy for the thoughts and feelings of others.

Share Classic Fairy Tales

A fun way to teach the concept of empathy is to re-tell classic fairy tales from lesser-known points of view. For example, most kids know the story of The Three Little Pigs, but have they ever heard it told from the Wolf’s point of view? Perhaps the wolf was not a ravenous pig-stalker after all, but rather an awkward kid, trying relentlessly to convince three brothers to include him in their fun and games. Would understanding the wolf’s desperation to fit in create more empathy for him? Most children’s fairy tales are told from a single point of view and lend themselves well to this type of empathic re-telling. Your older child may enjoy creating a whole book of re-written fairy tales, while your youngest child may enjoy being an illustrator of re-told tales.

Host a Movie Night - "Hoodwinked"

The animated movie Hoodwinked (2006) is a perfect pick for a family movie night and discussion about empathy. The PG-rated kid’s film, tagged as “the true story of Red Riding Hood,” is great for exploring alternate points of view, as it re-tells the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale from multiple non-traditional perspectives. Use this as a way to start them telling their own stories and perspectives about the Little Red Riding Hood.

These ideas are great ways to show your children the path to empathy and caring for others.

How do you teach your children empathy? What ways have helped your children learn about caring for others?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Signe is married and lives with her husband and two young daughters in eastern Pennsylvania.  She is currently writing a new book on the subject of preparing elementary school-aged girls to effectively cope with passive aggressive behavior and the challenges of girl bullying.  You can also find some of Signe’s wonderful advice on My Baby Clothes, a store that strives to provide the best for parents and their little ones.  Stop by and check their baby clothes, tutus and baby hats for this wonderful summer weather.

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