How We Teach Empathy to Children

How We Teach Empathy to Children


What does empathy look like?

  • Emotional sharing: when a person experiences unpleasant feelings because they saw or heard another person in distress (e.g. when we cry because a loved one is crying)
  • Empathic concern: a person’s desire to care for others who are vulnerable or experiencing distress (e.g. wanting to help a person experiencing hard times)
  • Perspective-taking: the ability to put yourself in another person’s situation and imagine what they could be thinking or feeling

At Busy Bees, our Educators support children to develop empathy in line with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) outcome 1.4. This outcome and learning milestone highlights how children learn to interact with others with care, empathy and respect.

Educators at Busy Bees promote this development by:

  • Initiating one-to-one interactions with children, particularly babies and toddlers, during their daily routines
  • Organising their learning environments in ways that promote small group interactions and play experiences
  • Modelling care, empathy and respect for children, staff and families
  • Modelling communication strategies that encourage children to initiate interactions, and joining in play and social experiences in ways that sustain productive relationships with other children
  • Acknowledging children’s complex relationships and sensitively intervening in ways that promote consideration of alternative perspectives and social inclusion

Parents can also play a pivotal role when it comes to developing empathy in children. Role modelling empathy at home is a great way to reach children from all angles, and it reinforces what they’ve learned about empathy while in Care. Look for opportunities to teach your child empathy in everyday situations, such as helping them relate to characters in movies and books.

Role modelling empathy at home:

  1. Show empathy towards your child. This is the easiest way to role model empathy, and it’s all about being mindful of your own responses to your child’s emotions. Be reflective of the emotions your child displays and validate how they are feeling.
  2. Take perspective in everyday moments. Our daily lives are full of teachable moments. Whether it’s in books, movies, at the park, or at home, we encounter challenges and emotional situations all the time. When you identify these situations, talk openly with your child about how the people or characters might feel.
  3. Help children discover what they have in common with others. No matter how different we are, everyone has something in common. Help your child understand this by helping them discover the things they share in common with people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and perspectives.
  4. Help children develop the ability to read emotional cues. Not every person reacts or feels the same way in every situation. Part of empathy is learning how to read the emotions of another person based on their facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. When you watch a movie or read a book with your child, discuss the character’s feelings and emotions. Point out their facial expressions and body language, and ask your child how they would feel if they were them.
  5. Encourage emotional sharing. A child should feel safe to express their emotions to you, even when they are negative. When your child shows an empathetic response, reinforce the behaviour by praising them for their compassion. When a child shares their emotions with you (even an unpleasant one) make sure to tell them how wonderful it is that they’re sharing their feelings with you.

Learn more about early learning, Kindergarten and childhood development

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