Empathy in children

This morning after the drop-off at school, I saw a little kid running around in circles, he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Suddenly, he lost his balance and tripped. The child wasn’t hurt but continued sitting down. Most of the other kids were oblivious to him. A minute later, I saw an older boy, about 8-9 years old, run up to check on the little kid. He helped him stand up, they exchanged smiles and ran to their classes. This kind exchange left me with a smile too.

Research shows that “empathy” is a skill that children are not born with. It has to be developed and practiced. While we focus on teaching various “subjects” to our kids, I always wonder if we are doing enough to fill their hearts and heads with kindness and empathy.

I recently read a fabulous article – How to Raise a Child Who Cares by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson, that mentions how it is perfectly normal for young kids to be selfish and gives real life (very relatable) examples of how to teach kids to be aware of their own and other people’s emotions. For instance, while reading books or watching a TV show, parents can ask poignant questions like “How do you think Character A was feeling” or “what should he do now?”, thereby drawing attention to the emotions of the characters.

Another interesting issue which the authors touch is to allow children to experience their own negative emotions rather than trying to distract them or rushing to fix things for them. For instance, hugging and letting children cry when their grandparents leave instead of trying to distract them with cookies -empathy emerges in children from experiencing negative emotions themselves. I have to confess this was a bit of a shocker for me. My style of parenting has been all about shielding children from every hardship – clearly, I need to work on this.

But let me not get distracted – coming back to the issue of what can parents do to make their children more emotionally aware. Here are few easy activities that I came across and would be trying with my children:    

  1. Emotions Collage – Take an old newspaper or magazine and let the children cut photos of people expressing various emotions. Let them label each emotion and have a discussion with children on why did they associate a photo with a particular emotion, what could possibly be the reason for such an emotion or what can we do to help that person.
  2. Thank you – Say “Hello” to, and compliment at least five people you talk to on a day. This activity is sure to bring smile on many faces!  
  3. Different Shoes – Ask your child to do their routine activities with some kind of impairment – blindfolded, thick gloves on their hands or ear plugs in their ears. Talk about the difficulties they faced and how it impacted their mood or reaction to other people.

Do try the activities and tell us what your children felt. Do you have any tips on teaching empathy and compassion to children? We would love to hear from you.

See you very soon.



  1. Raju


    You have suggested some nice and practical tips that help children develop empathy and understand that others have different thoughts and feelings than they do.
    I reading stories about feelings can also help children develop empathy. Talk to children about the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of the characters in the stories. Connect them with the child’s own real experiences. For example, if the character in the story is sad because she misses her parents, connect that feeling to a time the child also experienced sadness for something similar. This helps the child more clearly understand the relation between feelings, thoughts and behaviour.
    Best wishes Shobha

  2. […] between what they are watching and what is happening around them. Few weeks back I wrote a blog regarding raising empathetic kids. One of the suggestions given there was about watching shows […]

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