Model compassionate behaviors to help your child learn empathy.
Somewhere between your infant’s completely self-absorbed cries for a diaper change and the selfless adult child you hope to raise, your child must learn empathy. As she matures into a preschooler, the selfish toddler you grew to love begins to make that transition to understanding other people’s perspectives. The preschool years mark the optimum time in your child’s development to learn empathy, the ability to feel others people’s emotions. If you can help your preschooler see the world through others’ eyes, she will develop advanced social skills and stop being “that child” who hits the other kids on the playground.
1Model empathic behavior toward your little one. Exaggerate kind and sympathetic responses. Give hugs and gentle words of encouragement when your little one gets hurt, even if it’s only a scratch. Sympathize with her when she feels sad. Children who are raised by warm, loving, affectionate parents show their peers more empathy.
2Talk about different types of feelings. Help your preschooler understand the difference between emotions. Ask her to match her facial expressions to various feelings. For example, tell her to show you what “sad” or “happy” looks like.
3Explain that you and other people have feelings too. Tell your preschooler that all people have feelings just like she does. Explain how body language represents feelings. Show her how clenched fists means angry or picking at your fingernails might mean nervous. Play a game of feelings charades. Take turns acting out emotions.
4Read books or watch shows that show characters experiencing emotions. Talk about the emotions. You can say, “Little Johnnie looks sad, doesn’t he?” Ask your preschooler how she might help Johnnie feel better.
5Practice taking turns and sharing. Invite your child’s friend to play or you can be her playmate. Ask her to pick a toy to share that her friend will enjoy. By learning to take turns, she will learn that her behaviors have an effect on others.
6Adopt a pet. Although your preschooler cannot take full responsibility for an animal, she can help take care of one. That little kitty or puppy that desperately needs a home might become your most powerful tool in the attempt to teach your preschooler empathy. Pet ownership increases empathic behaviors toward people. While she is feeding and petting Fido, she may start feel empathy for humans as well.
- Be patient. No matter how hard you try to teach your preschooler empathy, she will still have bouts of unrelenting selfishness. With time, you’ll notice she starts to think more about other people’s feelings.