Empathy is at the heart of good relationships of many kinds, and it begins with valuing other perspectives and other people. Parents can cultivate empathy in their children by showing their kids how to be empathetic and talking about why it’s important.

Empathize with your child and model empathy for others

When we empathize with our children, they develop trusting, secure attachments with us and want to adopt our values and model our behavior.

  • Have conversations with your child (even before they can talk back!) and actively listen to them.
  • Express interest in people in your community from various backgrounds.
Make caring for others a priority

When other people are a priority, children will value a variety of perspectives.

  • Help your children understand that they should be considerate of the people around them: be polite even when you’re in a grumpy mood, help pick up your toys, listen while others are talking.
Provide opportunities for children to practice empathy

Learning empathy is like learning a language or a sport, it requires practice and guidance.

  • Encourage empathy for family and friends by asking your kids to think about how they think their family and friends are feeling, or why they reacted in a certain way.
  • Notice when your child exhibits empathy and tell them you noticed; point out when people around you exhibit empathy and talk about it.
Help children develop self-control and manage feelings effectively.

Often, when children don’t express empathy it’s not because they don’t have it, it’s because they’re having big feelings that are blocking it.

  • Identify feelings with your kids; encourage them to always talk about their feelings.
  • Come up with a system together for taking control of big feelings, such as taking a deep breath and counting to three. Practice this system together while you’re calm, and model it when you’re feeling upset
  • Practice resolving conflicts; try to achieve mutual understanding by listening and talking about each other’s feelings

teaching kids empathy infographic

Adapted from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Making Caring Common Project