10 Tips for Nurturing Empathy in Your Children

In my last blog post, I recommended books that parents and teacher can purchase to help the children in their lives develop a sense of empathy.

Today, I’d like to share some tips developed by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. and published in Parenting Science Magazine, that will assist you in nurturing empathy in your children.

Children are born into the world kicking and screaming. They cry when they’re hungry;,a  they stub a toe or someone pushes them to the ground.

It’s our role as parents to help children, as they grow and develop, to also care about the needs of others and injustices other people face as well as the importance of protecting our natural environment, including our ocean waters.

Empathy to some extent comes naturally to children. When they see their mother crying, they worry. When the family pet dies, they will feel sad and sense the loss.

Just as it’s important to deepen empathy, it’s also important to help our children regulate their emotional states.

According to Steve Palmer, who wrote an article on this topic for Parent Further, a search institute resource for families,“[Empathy is] a core skill for what psychologists call “pro-social” behavior – the actions that are involved in building close relationships, maintaining friendships, and developing strong communities.”

Three Attributes of Empathy

Returning to Dr. Dewar’s article, she suggests that empathy involves these skills:

  • A sense of self-awareness and ability for a child to distinguish his/her feelings from the feelings of others.
  • Learning how to take another person’s perspective.
  • Learning how to regulate one’s emotional responses.

10 Tips for Teaching Empathy

Dr. Dwar offers these ten tips – that are research-based – for teaching empathy.

  1. Research indicates that when a child’s emotional needs are met at home, he or she is better equipped to develop a sense of empathy.
  2. Start treating your child as someone who has a mind of his own and share ways that our feelings can influence our behavior to further a greater good.
  3. Take opportunities to model—and induce—sympathetic feelings for other people. You can point out situations that call for empathy. For example, explain how litter – especially plastics – is endangering creatures that live in our oceans.
  4. Emphasize what your children may have in common with other children.
  5. Teach kids to care about hunger when they aren’t hungry. In other words, teach them to care about social and environmental issues even when they are feeling comfortable in the world.
  6. Help kids in their exploration of other roles and perspectives. Talk to them about what it might feel like to experience a certain situation from someone else’s perspective. Experiment with role-playing or encourage your children to read a story or book that causes them to analyze the psychology of the characters.
  7. Ask your children to try on a smile or a frown and to explain how they feel when they are acting out different emotions.
  8. Don’t ever use rewards or punishment when helping your children develop a sense of morality. Instead, use an approach that emphasizes rational explanations and moral consequences to actions.
  9. Teach your children to resist rationalizations that encourage them to exhibit cruel or callous behavior.
  10. Children who feel loved find it easier to understand the emotional signals of other people. So hug your children.

As you teach children about empathy, take them to beach to explore tide pools. Talk to them about the fish and creatures that live beneath the surface of the sea and gradually help them to understand how our actions can protect our oceans and all marine life.


Elizabeth B. Martin is the author and illustrator of six picture books for children. You can view her books here for free or purchase them at Amazon.


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