Developing Empathy In Children
Can Empathy be taught in Children


In this Issue:

  • What is empathy?
  • 'Tis the Season to Know How to Say Thank You: Teaching our Children Important Social Skills for the Holiday Season
  • Ask Dr. Andie

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to identify and understand another's feelings, situation, or motives. This occurs when we can tune in to how someone else feels and understand things from his or her viewpoint. In other words, being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Henry Ford, the great industrialist, was once quoted saying, " If there is any one secret, it lies in the ability to get the other's point of view and see things from his angle as well as yours".

Empathy is also the quintessential "people skill". It is one of the more important social skill ingredients that deep interpersonal relationships build from. The key to empathy building is being able to identify and recognize different emotions in oneself to be able to identify those feelings in others. By helping children develop empathy, it builds on self-awareness and through experiencing the feelings of others, children learn to be caring and compassionate, gain responsibility, and have a social conscience. Being able to relate positively in an empathetic way to others can make a real difference in the world!

'Tis the Season to Know How to Say Thank You: Teaching our Children Important Social Skills for the Holiday Season

Remember as a child how it felt to be at someone's birthday party as you anxiously waited for the honored person to open your gift? Remember the sigh of relief when they acknowledged how wonderful your gift was to them? In this season of gift giving and receiving, it's a great time to teach our children the social skills of acknowledging someone's feelings when receiving gifts. Empathy allows us to acknowledge the joy someone else would feel when the gift they gave was fully appreciated.

So how do we turn our children into gracious gift receivers? It's not just about saying thank you but actually HOW to say thank you. Here are some simple social skills tips just in time for the holiday season:

  • Practice with your child on how to say "Thank You" when they receive a gift - The main point about gift receiving is not so much about what the gift is but the thought that went behind it. It's the sentiment of telling someone how much he or she appreciated being thought of that brings joy to that person. By role-playing with the child, the child being the giver and you being on the receiving end, use phrases like, " Thank you so much for thinking of me", "I appreciate this gift so much", and "Thank you for making me so happy" imply thoughtfulness and appreciation.
  • Teach your child to call or write "Thank You" notes to the gift sender - This is as much as a social skill as well as good manners. Helping your children verbalize their happiness about receiving a gift from another is an excellent conversational and communication skill. A grandparent or favorite relative who spends time and energy to mail holiday gifts is always happy to hear that their gifts were not only received but also appreciated. As a child gets older, handwriting a note to the gift giver teaches them responsibility and accountability.
  • Role-play with your children different scenarios of gift receiving that teach empathetic responses - Put some toys or clothes in a box and play " Let's Get Presents". Switch and play the role of the "indifferent" gift receiver, and use phrases such as "Thanks, but I already have this toy!" or "I don't like this color dress". Ask the child who is now playing the role of the gift giver how it would feel hearing those remarks. Would they feel angry? Would they feel happy or sad? Being in someone else's' shoes teaches empathy and an opportunity to see how their behavior or words can affect others.

Ask Dr. Andie

Questions can be submitted through the website and if possible, will be answered either in the Q&A section or in the Power2Relate Newsletter.

My six- year- old daughter has recently been told by her playmates that she is bossy and mean to them. She comes home from these play dates and is very upset about this. I would not describe her as mean spirited. How can I help her with this?

Girls seem to have this issue with friends more than boys. Perhaps, it's because girls use words to hurt others in the same way boys tend to be more physical with their friends. I would first ask your daughter what she might have said to her friends that may have caused them to call her bossy or mean. Sometimes children are not always aware that how they say something may be different from what they had intended. If this is the case, role-play with her other ways she could express herself that would better communicate her feelings or actions in a less aggressive way. Help her understand that being a friend is about taking turns, sharing, and understanding that she wouldn't like it if others were bossy or mean to her. It's all about learning how it would feel to be in someone else's shoes.


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