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Teaching children character strengths and life skills such as empathy is one of the most important jobs of being a parent. Empathetic children can put themselves in someone else’s shoes, and can see things from another perspective. It also allows them to develop other caring character strengths such as compassion and gratitude.
Preschool is a great time to teach empathy because it’s when children start to develop relationships with other children. We need to teach them empathy because we aren’t born with it naturally.
Teaching empathy is a great antidote to bullying. Empowered children can empathize with a bully’s target and can befriend the victim, use distractions, speak out, or tell an adult.
Some Ideas to Cultivate Empathy in Young Children
Practice roll playing with your children in which you teach them assertiveness with their words. “I don’t like it when… (and then add what they want instead)…”
Movies and books. While watching a “movie or reading a book and you have emotions, tell your child. For example, “When Dory got Lost in Finding Dory, I was really upset. I felt really concerned she would be lonely and wouldn’t be able to find her way home..
Reading picture books together is a great way to teach small children empathy. Look at the faces and talk about what each person is feeling. Then ask, “Can you make a face like that!” Help children recognize the facial expressions and body postures associated with feelings – happy, angry, sad, scared.
My family really loves reading the Bucket Filler Books. Talk with your kids about how everyone has an invisible bucket. When we are happy, our bucket is full. When we are sad, it’s empty. When we do nice things for others, we add to their bucket and to our own because it feels good to be kind. When someone is mean to us, water drips out. Our buckets have lips, so we can put on our lid so others can’t hurt us.
What are some of your favorite books and movies that teach empathy?