How to Raise More Empathetic Kids

Young, happy children being held by their mother

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Kids are so incredible. Spend just an hour with them, and you’ll realize they’re like little sponges. They soak up any information they can, including how to treat others. And when it comes to their emotional wellness—now and in the future—few things are more important than cultivating empathy.

As a parent, you want your kids to grow into caring, thoughtful people. Making sure that you treat others with respect and consideration is a great place to start. But you can also encourage kids to think actively on their own about things like kindness, empathy and caring through the use of thought exercises like the ones below.

Being Aware of Feelings

When you’re talking to your child about their day, teach them to focus on being aware of other’s feelings by asking them if they noticed anyone who was having a tough time, and why. 

  • Did someone seem lonely or sad? 
  • Did anyone seem angry? 
  • What happened to make them feel that way?

It's also good to ask them about the people who made their day better. A teacher who said something nice about them. A friend who shared with them. A loved one who sent them a card in the mail. It’s a great way to help them feel gratitude toward others.

Doing Kind Things

Showing sympathy is wonderful. It’s human to react with kindness when someone is upset. But grab opportunities to show kids that they can proactively brighten someone’s day, too, simply because it’s a nice thing to do.

At the coffee shop: “How do you think that lady behind us would feel if we bought her coffee for her?”

At home: “What if we sent Grandma a nice card? How would that make her feel?”

At the grocery store: “How do you think that boy would feel if we told him he has cool shoes?”

Then follow through with those suggestions together and talk about what happened after. Finally, ask how it made them feel to do nice things for other people!

Taking Care of Others

Sometimes children are present in situations where care is being provided to another adult, like a spouse in the hospital, or a grandparent with dementia. To see an adult who is sick, frustrated or confused can be difficult for kids—they’re used to adults running the show!

You can involve kids in caregiving by helping them understand the behaviors and emotions the person you’re caring for is experiencing. Ask questions like, “Remember how tired you were when you were sick?” Or, “You know how when you’re embarrassed, you feel upset or angry?”

You can also help make them more comfortable in these situations by asking them to remember what they like to do best with that person. If they always loved reading with Grandma, encourage them to bring a book to read to her. Another way to involve them is by helping them pick out a card, write a nice note and give it to the person you’re visiting.

Remember, not every exercise in empathy will be a solid success. Learning empathy can be confusing, humbling—even embarrassing. Help them to focus on the rewards and good feelings that empathy elicits. You’re helping your children become caring, thoughtful adults, and that’s always worth the effort.

If you’re not sure where to start, see what a card can do! It’s a simple, yet powerful way to show kids the impact a kind gesture can have.