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How can I develop my child's empathy?

Do you ever worry that your child lacks empathy?

Maybe your child seems unaffected when they hear about the suffering of others or is seemly unaware of the emotions of others?

Although empathy is partly based on our nature and biology, it’s also hugely impacted by our learning experiences and develops as we mature. It can also be nurtured as a skill!

If you notice a lack of empathy in your child this is likely due to a lack of life experiences rather than an inability to connect with others.

It’s often difficult for children to imagine the emotions of others and read situations without being taught how to do this.

Send us an email to find out how we can help support your child or arrange a call info@rolemodels.me

girl with a jumprope

Here are four practical strategies you can implement into everyday life:

1. Role modeling

  • Reading books, watching movies and playing games are all excellent ways to teach empathy. Discuss how the characters in the story are feeling and how you can tell. Ask your child how they might feel if they were the lead in the movie plot and when playing board games, make it explicit how perspective taking and insight into what the other players might be thinking is key.

2. Random acts of kindness

  • Get the whole family involved in some ‘random acts of kindness' where you decide together on small acts that positively impact others. Involve your child in choosing the act, carrying it out and then crucially, discuss after how they think it impact that person, plus how it made them feel doing the random act of kindness.

3. Bringing it into day to day life

  • Model empathy in a range of situations by doing your thinking out loud. ‘I wonder if daddy is feeling tired today, I can tell because he seems weary and I know he had a very busy day. I’m going to ask if he would like a cup of tea’.
  • This can be done directly with your child too, ‘I wonder if you might be feeling a bit upset that the party is cancelled? I know I feel upset when my plans are cancelled’. Through continued modelling, your child will pick up on this empathetic approach and may begin to apply this in their own interactions.

4. Recognition

  • Recognising and praising empathetic behaviour in your child is also likely to have a lasting impact. When your child reads a situation and acts with empathy, highlight this to them and discuss it. ‘You knew your sister might be feeling upset when her favourite necklace broke, how did you know how she’d be feeling?’.

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Some book recommendations for building empathy:

For children:

For parents:

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