• Nadia Muhammad

Teaching Empathy to Kids

Behavioural Skills

Empathy is the ability to identify with or understand the situation or feelings of others and to respond in helpful ways. In order to understand the perspective of others, we need to connect with them by finding something similar inside of us first; it is about putting ourselves in others’ shoes to be able to understand what they might be going through.

Empathy is believed to be an innate behaviour among human beings. But, like language, the development of this inherent tendency may be affected by our early childhood experiences. Parents and teachers can play a vital role in teaching and nurturing this skill in young children.

Some children seem to develop empathy more naturally than others, but all children need to be taught this critical skill. Children who are empathic are more likely to grow into well adjusted adults, with better skills to relate with other people in their lives.

Children at a very young age can appreciate that snatching things from other kids can hurt them. Whenever there is a conflict situation, grab the opportunity to discuss with your children how do they feel and how do they think the other person must be feeling. It is never too early or too late to start teaching empathy to children.

In this article, I have tried to put together some ways to help our children learn this skill.

Identifying/Labelling Emotions

Labelling and discussing emotions is the first step to unlocking your child’s innate empathy. Encourage them from a very young age to name their own feelings. It is impossible to understand how other people feel if the child cannot understand how he is feeling. Labelling all positive as well as negative feelings within him will make him connect the feeling words with emotional reactions, which he can use in the future to express his feelings. When children are able to understand their own feelings and behaviour, they can express them in words instead of throwing temper tantrums. They will also begin to understand how the other children might feel e.g, in a fight.

Model Empathy

The best way to teach empathy to kids is by modelling it. Pick up a child when s/he falls, label their feelings and let them know that you have felt that way too. Listen to your child calmly when he is experiencing difficult emotions and do not just walk away to let his emotions cool down automatically. If parents show empathy, it is more likely that their children will internalize these behaviours and learn to do the same.

Giving Responsibilities

Kids who have responsibilities tend to be more empathic and caring. If we involve them in daily chores or let them be responsible for a pet or a plant, they will learn to think about others. Parents can get the households chores done and spend some quality time with kids at the same time. They can gradually assign more advanced tasks for them to take on as they grow up. Parents must not forget to acknowledge and appreciate the help children are being for them and to clearly express how they feel when they are assisted in helpful ways by them.

Random Acts of Kindness

Children tend to learn the behaviours they observe by mirroring their elders. Parents can perform some random acts of kindness in their daily lives, as their children observe them. Helping the neighbours, holding doors for strangers, offering seats to elderly people in a public transport, helping someone get into the traffic by giving them the right of way, sharing food with the unprivileged ones. These acts will not only benefit others but ultimately help inculcate empathy in your children.

Parent- Child Bonding

Children are more likely to develop empathy when their emotional needs are being met with at home. They want to feel heard and helped when experiencing conflict or strong emotions. If the children have secure attachment with their parents, it provides them with a safe haven to explore the world around them and develop relationships with other people. It is the responsibility of parents to give their children this feeling of security to enable them to relate with others positively.

Always remember: children learn their values and emotional regulation directly from what their parents ‘do,’ not from what they ‘say’.


Nadia Muhammad

Director, The Behavioural Skills Company

During the course of her over seven years career, Nadia has consistently worked to push innovations in behavioural skills training. When she is not working on assignments, she is incorporating scientific information and developing new training techniques to update her workshops in the areas of stress management, mastering anger, controlling demoralizing anxiety, parenting skills, and spousal relationship.

Nadia's workshops combine an optimal blend of learning and fun which are consistently the two attributes people remember them for. Her equal proficiency in four languages and experience of living and working in different cultural settings enables her to relate positively to her workshops participants with diverse cultural backgrounds.

Keen to contribute to community, Nadia is an avid social worker. She serves as vice president on the board of Victoria Hills Neighbourhood Association, Kitchener ON. She spends her spare time helping people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds connect together by organizing interactive discussion sessions and multicultural community events.

Nadia has a master of science in Psychology and has attended training workshop on Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). She graduated top of the class in a hundred hour-training program Management for Organizational Effectiveness (MOE).

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