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9 Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Learn Empathy Every Day

9 Easy Ways to Help Your Kids Learn Empathy Every Day

Raising empathetic kids is important in helping them understand others’ perspectives—and it’s something you can easily work on every day.

New Yorkers know better than anyone that it takes a village! We show up for our communities. This means we want to raise our kids to give back. Put another way: We want them to learn empathy. “Empathy is about understanding a perspective or point of view of someone else,” says Sarah Scheldt, M. Ed., a parenting coach in Brooklyn. “Children respond to what they see their parents doing. So, while talking as a family about empathy is certainly important, showing them what it means is even stronger.” 

If trying to constantly model empathy sounds like just another stress on top of everything else (laundry, doctor visits, work), you’re not alone. But Scheldt says you can easily mix it into your everyday life. “Think about anything you’ve wanted your kid to get better at in the past like a sport or waking up for school on time. First, you show them how to do it. Then, you practice and do it together a lot. At some point, the magic happens. Your kids just know what’s expected and they do it,” she says.

9 Everyday Activities for Raising Empathetic Kids

Read a book together.

Read, discuss. Repeat. While reading, ask questions about the characters. “It’s much more helpful to teach a big concept like empathy when you remove yourself from the situation,” Scheldt says. “If you are already modeling how characters feel in a book, your kids now have something to anchor a future response and will be more likely to express empathy for others.” 

A few books she recommends: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña or Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud for younger kids and Wonder by R. J. Palacio for older kids.

Role play it out.

You can use puppets, Barbies, or just yourself and your kids. It’s good to act out responses to feelings and problems. As Scheldt says, “Remember, you want your kids to have skills before they are confronted with reasons to use empathy in the real world.”

Watch a movie.

Pose questions during and after the movie. You can ask, “How do you think they are feeling? What makes you think that?” Later, “What would you have done? Do you understand why the character felt that way?”

Here are a few films that hit on helping out community and friends: Inside Out, Wonder (an adaptation of the book mentioned above), and Zootopia.

Help your neighbor.

Do you have an elderly neighbor who needs someone to feed their cat? Is there someone down the street who could use help shoveling snow? Involve your child and help out in your community.

Volunteer as a family.

Serve food at a shelter together, volunteer in your community, adopt a family at the holidays, or donate non-perishables to a local food bank

Donate to a cause.

This doesn’t have to be money. Your kids can sort toys, clothes, and books to donate to families in need. Have a discussion and decide where to donate. Who can use the clothes? Who might enjoy the toys? Consider dropping the items off together too.

Brighten someone’s day.

This can be a card your child writes to a teacher, flowers dropped off to a local senior center, or cookies for that elderly neighbor. Your kids can help bake, write, draw, or arrange the flowers. Don’t forget to keep the discussion going. Ask questions like, “Who do you think needs a smile right now? Who can we lift up? Who is having a hard time?”

Introduce a new way of life.

“It’s important to expand on the idea of community all the time, especially in New York. This is empathy,” Scheldt says. When you are trying to understand someone else’s point of view, remind your kids that your reality and theirs can be different but can still coexist. You might not practice the same religion or believe the same things, for example, but you can still be part of the same wonderful community.

Focus on their listening skills.

“A listener who understands and isn’t just listening to respond is an empathetic listener,” Scheldt says. Listen to people share their experiences with you and your kids. Teach and talk about the difference between listening and hearing. Most importantly, make sure your kids see you taking time out to say hello and then really listen to people in the community…the cashier at the store, your mail carrier, or that neighbor down the road. These small interactions model empathy in a big way.

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Meredith Franco Meyers

Author: Meredith Franco Meyers is a writer and mom of two living in Brooklyn. Her articles and essays have appeared in or on, American Baby, The, SELF, Fitness, Fit Pregnancy, Momtastic, HuffPo Parents, and more. See More

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