How do we teach empathy to our children?

Empathy – The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings.

I was inspired to write about this topic after I was invited recently to watch a documentary called India’s Daughter. For those of you not familiar with this film, it is based on the Delhi gang rape that took India by storm in 2012. I had the opportunity to meet with the Director Leslee Udwin who sparked a global movement with this movie. She was so disturbed after this incident that she decided she had to fight for women’s rights and gender equality.

Through her journey and with the help of world-class experts she has now created a revolutionary world-changing human rights education initiative called “ Think Equal”. The curriculum will teach empathy, respect, gender sensitization and moral values. Experts believe if we introduce these values to our children in the preschool years they will remain with us for a lifetime.

So how do we teach empathy to a preschooler? Something as simple as waiting your turn to play a game teaches you to be patient and understanding. Helping a friend perform a task that he may be having difficulty with. Strong home relationships and family attachments also give children the confidence to help others if they are secure individuals themselves.

We are the best role models for our children if we display empathic behavior towards others our children will follow. Talk about other people’s feelings in difficult situations and how you would feel if you were in their place. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s right and wrong, show your physical emotions and display your affection. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and yours so they can understand and label different emotions. Don’t forget to praise empathic behavior. Another great way to explore emotions is through books. Fairy tales and stories can help start a discussion on feelings, would you be scared or sad in the same situation?

Teaching our children simple manners shows respect and caring for others. “Please”, “Thank you” and “Sorry” should be part of our daily dictionary. Shouting doesn’t help when you are trying to discipline your child, explain calmly why you feel this way and what are the consequences.

Finally, I would like to highlight the importance of being thankful. A friend of mine keeps a Gratitude journal where she writes 10 things she is thankful for every day. I adapted this to a simplified version for my children, 3 things that made you happy today. It is great at bedtime and a beautiful end to the day.

Best Regards,
Monica Valrani
Ladybird Nurseries


  1. Helen
    Posted on March 31, 2016 at 6:06 am

    An interesting article. I agree empathy and understanding starts with the parents and main carer/s. I say main carer because in this fast world we live often parents no longer spend the majority of the working week with their children.
    So, empathy needs to be learned from the people around children most of the time as well as parents.
    This is very challenging in the multicultural society we live in where the display of empathy and understanding may differ.
    “Please” “thank you ” and “sorry” are so important to begin with and all carers need to instil this positive behavior with children.

  2. Leslee Udwin Says :
    Posted on April 17, 2016 at 9:11 am

    It has been inspiring meeting you Monica and hearing about your wonderful school and its ethos. Empathy and building the foundation in children at the right time, when they are still ‘cognitively modifiable’ and any harmful stereotypical or discriminatory thinking can still be changed, is crucial if we are to build a safe, free and equal world. We have been extremely privileged and honoured to be graced with the most brilliant minds across the world whose expertise in social and emotional learning informs and shapes our THINK EQUAL curriculum. And it is a source of great reassurance and optimism for us to know that there are enlightened educators and schools like you and Ladybird who share these crucial values and support the much needed system in education, away from only educating our children’s heads, and adding education of their hearts.

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