Empathy refers to an understanding and sensitivity to another person's feelings. The concept is often described to children as putting yourself in the other person's shoes to imagine how the other person is feeling. Empathy helps a child approach social situations appropriately, making him more likely to get along well with other children. According to Dr. Paul Coleman, writing on the Family Education website, empathetic children maintain better relationships and may do better in school. While some children appear to be naturally more empathetic than others, activities that allow kids to practice empathy help develop the social skill.
Model empathy in all your interactions with your child, other kids and other adults. Let her see what empathy looks like.
Ask your child what empathy means to him, if he is old enough to understand the meaning. Discuss how you can figure out what someone else is feeling, based on verbal and nonverbal clues.
Model various emotions through your body language and facial expressions. Ask your child to identify the emotion you are displaying. Encourage her to model the different emotions with her own body language, too.
Verbalize your actual emotions to your child by telling him how you feel and why. For example, you might tell him you are feeling frustrated because you cannot find a particular book. Encourage your youngster to verbalize his feelings as well.
Write social situations on cards during which empathy would help. Examples include a child who is being bullied, a friend whose grandmother died and a friend who failed a math test. Ask your child to brainstorm ways to show empathy in each situation and how the empathy might help the other child feel better. KidsHealth also recommends having her list negative effects of not showing empathy in each situation.
Use role play for the situations on the cards. Ask your child to act out the situation in a way that shows empathy for a friend. Take turns playing different roles so he can see both sides of the situation.
Praise and point out specific examples of your child showing empathy on her own. Hand out awards or keep a list of the examples to encourage her to continue using empathy.