Creative Child

5 Ways to Teach a Child Empathy

by Rebecca Eanes

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3. Read and role-play. Neuroscientists mapping the brain have discovered that reading fiction taps into the same brain networks as real life experience. Reading fiction can improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another’s shoes and improves Theory of Mind (the ability to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, knowledge, etc. – to oneself and others and to understand that others have mental states different from one’s own.)

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Role-play helps kids practice for real-life situations. Try role-playing with your kids various circumstances such as:

a) You are playing with your friends at recess and notice one person who has no one to play with. What do you do?

b. You notice a person on crutches who is having a difficult time getting the door open. What do you do?

c. Your friend’s hamster died. What do you say?

 

4. Drop rewards and punishments. Research has shown that children are more likely to develop an internal sense of morality when their parents use a discipline approach that emphasizes rational explanation and moral consequences rather than arbitrary rules and punishments. 

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In her book Un-selfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, author Michele Borba suggests four steps to help a child respond more empathetically. CARE. 1) Call attention to uncaring behavior, 2) assess how uncaring affects others and help kids to understand the other’s perspective, 3) repair the hurt and make amends, and 4) express disappointment for uncaring behavior while stressing expectations of caring behavior in the future. Allowing children to have these “do-overs” is much more beneficial to developing empathy than simply enduring a punishment for uncaring behavior.

 

5. Focus on helping the child connect actions with outcomes rather than forcing apologies. Most young children do not really understand the concept of apologies. While it may feel “right” to make them apologize, it isn’t – in and of itself- helpful in developing empathy. Instead, help your child to be observant of how their actions affect others. “Look at Jackson. He’s crying and holding his knee. When you pushed him down, he landed on that knee and now it hurts. Let’s go check on him and make sure he’s okay.” 

 

Rebecca Eanes, is the founder of positive-parents.org and creator of Positive Parenting: Toddlers and Beyond. She is the bestselling author of 3 books. Her newest book,Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, is more than a parenting book, it's a guide to human connection. She has also written The Newbie's Guide to Positive Parentingand co-authored the book, Positive Parenting in Action: The How-To Guide to Putting Positive Parenting Principles in Action in Early ChildhoodShe is the grateful mother to 2 boys.

 

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