The current COVID-19 pandemic is a trying time for everyone. Parents are understandably worried about their children’s welfare and how to best protect them from the virus. Amidst all the stress and uncertainty, it is important to remember to show empathy and compassion for one another. This includes extended family, friends, and even strangers. By teaching empathy to children during COVID, we can help make this difficult time a little bit easier for everyone.
But what if your child doesn’t understand that others may be struggling a more with the challenges COVID brought?
It is common for children to find it challenging to separate their reality from other people’s reality. This is because a child’s sense of self takes years to develop. So even though at the age of five, they understand they are an independent individual and that their behaviour may affect others, it is difficult for them to empathise and “feel” what others are feeling.
Sense of Self
Children start to develop a sense of self during toddlerhood. This is around the time when they begin to recognise their reflection in a mirror and begin to use the pronoun “me.” They also learn about personal pronouns such as “mine” and “yours.” During this stage of development, empathy can be learned through imitation, a reward for good behaviour, and encouraging unselfish play.
When Kids Learn Empathy?
Children learn empathy when they understand that other people experience the world differently from them. Children develop empathy by understanding others’ feelings and perspectives by seeing how others respond to situations.
This takes time. They need to be old enough to recognise their own emotions to grasp what another person might be feeling in a specific situation. Empathy is in full swing at age four when children can comfort someone in distress. This is the age where empathy kicks in.
Some kids may take longer to develop this skill. However, empathy can be trained.
How to Teach Empathy to Your Child?
- Identify feelings. Talk with your child about their feelings. Help them name what they are feeling.
- Show them pictures of other people expressing emotions and ask them what the person in the photo may be feeling.
- Introduce empathy through empathy games. Role-plays are an easy way to teach empathy to your child.
- Encourage empathy by speaking emotionally about someone’s feelings during family activities, such as dinnertime or car rides. Or, during playtime at home, have them play out scenarios where they show empathy.
- Include empathy as a routine part of their homework, such as writing a letter to someone who has been affected by COVID-19 or drawing a picture about feelings.
- Practice Active Listening. It is only when we pay full attention to others that we can empathise with their feelings.
These games and activities will help children learn empathy or how to understand the feelings of others.
Once your child starts to show empathy, they will become more compassionate and caring towards others.
Stay strong during this challenging time, and keep the empathy going!
You can use the ACTIVE LISTENER GAME printable to help your child improve their listening skills.
We hope that you’ve found these empathy-building tips helpful. If you would like more information on how to help your child develop empathy, please check our Empathy Value Guide. The guide is packed with research-backed advice. It also includes activities and exercises you can do at home to foster a sense of understanding and compassion in your child.