Many children will develop and practice empathy on their own and through various life experiences. However, it can be helpful to incorporate some fun activities into your day to day life to help spark and curiosity and understanding of empathy. The following activities are designed to develop emotional skills that will help children have a better understanding of the importance of empathy:
Children of all ages love stories, and characters and plots are an easy and effective way to introduce kids to new situations, emotions, and problems. Take a break while reading to ask your child what feelings a character may be experiencing, what another character could say to acknowledge those emotions, or ask your child to identify and explain facial expressions or body language depicted in illustrations that may serve as context clues.
I Faces and Feelings
Many children can have difficulty reading facial expressions, particularly as they become more nuanced. The difference between happy and sad expressions is fairly obvious, but there is some overlap between the characteristics of other emotions, such as worried and mad that can make interpreting these emotions a bit more difficult. Make a concerted effort to practice expressing and identifying emotions and facial expressions. Either take turns acting out emotions and guessing, create flashcards out of magazine clippings of different expressions, or use movies or books to help your child practice identifying these emotions.
I Random acts of kindness
The joy that comes from cheering someone up is an all ages and stages experience. Help your child identify a community member, group, family member, or friend and brainstorm nice things that you could do for them. Whether it’s baking cookies for the fire department or washing grandma’s car, showing your child that they have the power to make a positive impact on others can have a long-lasting effect on their ability and willingness to do so.
Mindfulness in its simplest form is about cultivating an awareness of, and appreciation for, the present moment. Practice mindfulness with your little one by reading books about mindfulness practice, participating in a short guided meditation session via YouTube, or by taking a moment while outside to ask them to bring their awareness to how their feet connect with their earth, what sounds they hear, or how the sun feels on their face. While this may not seem directly related to empathy, practicing situational awareness is a key component to recognizing and connecting with the experiences of others. It also provides a great way to help your child identify and practice ways that they can manage big emotions.
Practice makes perfect, and that includes social skills. Take turns acting out different roles with your child. Invent different scenarios, with one of you playing the part of the main character and the other as the supportive friend. For instance:
• Getting hurt on the playground
• Getting a new puppy as a surprise
• Not having anyone to play with at recess
• Waiting for guests to arrive at your birthday party
• Having your ice cream fall on the ground
Exaggerate your facial expressions and body language when you play the main character, and provide feedback on which parts of the conversation were particularly helpful and suggestions on where to improve. Get silly and have fun when doing this with your child. Have them use fake scenarios or real scenarios that they have experienced to get extra practice.
Note from Mightier Clinicians
Building empathy in young children is a crucial part of their social-emotional learning and can make a significant impact on their ability to bond with their peers and family members, participate in conflict resolution, and to understand the cause and effect relationship between behavior and the feelings of others.