Developing Empathy

About This Module

As our children enter the mid childhood years, friendships are becoming more important to them and more long term. Having a sense of empathy for others is an important life skill to form and develop friendships.

Empathy in children is the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people.

Shocking as it sounds, by the age of 4, children can easily name twenty animals, some of which they may never have seen in real life, but struggle to name their own basic emotions.

This module focusses on the six basic emotions which are the first emotions we feel. These are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. These are the important emotions to focus on when teaching children empathy.

We all experience these six emotions. The question is, are you exposing your children these emotions? It’s only by continued exposure to these six basic emotions, that our children can develop empathy. Your child develops empathy by learning to understand that everyone around them is also feeling these emotions.

Empathy is a vital life skill and is far easier to learn during childhood. If a child lacks empathy, it becomes difficult to have positive and meaningful relationships. Be they relationships with parents, friends or, later in life, romantic and work place relationships. Empathy sits at the core of all these relationships.

This module is designed to enable you to check whether your child is developing a healthy sense of empathy and provide you with some tools to further develop this.

It’s great to do if your child is struggling to make or keep friends. Or, you may feel your child fails to see other people’s points of view or consider other people’s feelings.

What You'll Learn

  • To help you and your child understand the importance of empathy in being able to establish and maintain friendships.

  • To help you teach your child the skill of empathy.

  • To learn and put into practise strategies to foster the various stages of empathy as it develops through early childhood.

Psychology Fun Facts

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  • Empathy for kids
    Emotions are OK! Learning empathy starts with our children knowing that all emotions are ok to have. Children will likely feel happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust every single week. As parents, we need to let our children feel these emotions and show them that we are feeling the same emotions at times as well.

  • Children need to witness emotions to help them learn to manage their own. As parents, our natural reaction is to shelter our children from our own negative emotions, put on a brave face, and show them the world is a happy and positive place.

    Completely hiding your own sadness, anger or fears can stop your children from understanding these different emotions and going on to learn empathy.

  • When do children learn empathy?
    Empathy develops slowly through childhood, this is not something we are born with. It’s a learned skill. Infants are very self-centred and unable to comprehend that others have emotional needs as well them.

    By around the age of 4, we begin to understand that other people have feelings and that those feelings may not be the same as our own.

  • When do children develop empathy?
    Some children will learn to develop empathy naturally and intuitively. Others need to be taught this skill. If your child is displaying empathy levels appropriate to their age, you’re providing an environment where they are learning this skill.

  • When toddlers play together, they do so by what is known as parallel play. Parallel play is where children play the same game at the same time, but as the games are very simple it doesn’t require any interaction or playing together. Therefore, empathy of the other child’s feelings is not present. Friendships are formed simply by enjoying the same toys or play.

  • Teaching children kindness and teaching children respect to each other:
    By the age of 6, children expect emotional understanding from their friends. Empathy. Children who struggle to understand their friend’s feelings or show empathy may find they are being excluded from play.

    Often the excluded child reports other children are being mean to them or won’t play with them. This can be because their lack of empathy skills is upsetting their friends.

    This is a very common stage for a child with no empathy and many children will go through it and need their parent’s help to overcome it.

    As children enter the mid-childhood years, their ability to predict others feelings and demonstrate empathy becomes a key skill in making and maintaining friends.

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