How to Foster Empathy in Your Kids

One of my earliest Thanksgiving memories starts at school. I was in second grade and we were making turkey hands—you know, when you trace your hands and your fingers make the feathers—and we had to write what we were thankful for on each one of the feathers. Like any good 8 year old, I wrote toys, cake, TV, and family—just in case Santa was watching for early nice points.

When I got home, my mother took a look at my masterpiece and asked me, “What do you think I’m thankful for?” I immediately thought it was a trick. I slowly answered, “Me?”

Little did I know, I received more than a big hug that day—I received a lesson in empathy.

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s shoes and to imagine how they feel. These skills allow us to become stronger problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, and cool people.

Considering we all want to be a bunch of Fonzies, here are some tips for how you can foster empathy this Thanksgiving and all year long.

Talk about others feelings.

Is your child’s friend crying? Identity how that friend is feeling. Point out cues to how you know they are feeling that way.

Read feeling books.

There are a great number of books which addresses feelings. Ask your local librarian for their recommendations. Personally, I love Todd Parr’s The Feeling Book.

Label your own feelings.

Point out moments if empathy when you see it in movies, television, and real life. You can also promote empathy play by pretending with stuffed animals and dolls. By setting a strong example, your kids can learn empathy from you.

 

So this year, when you are making Thanksgiving hand turkeys with the little ones, ask them to write what they think their family is Thankful for. You’ll give them a mini empathy lesson—and you might get a great story out of it too.

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