Teaching Empathy To Preschoolers

Photo: Life in Christ Preschool, Albertville, MN.

My family just returned from an amazing vacation out in the Glacier area. One evening when I took my children to a campground pool, we were quite surprised by a little boy that couldn’t have been older than age 4 who began to attack my 10-year old daughter in the water.

The commotion began when he came up to her and splashed her in the face. She wiped her eyes and said, “Please do not splash me.” The little boy splashed her again and called for his brother saying, “Help me get her.”

These children were accompanied by both parents. Mom sat on the pool edge talking to a friend. Dad was in the pool with a younger sister and although he heard what was going on, he chose to ignore it. My daughter walked out of the pool leaving the two boys that were now splashing her and told me she was taking a time out. This proved to be a wise choice.

The 4-year-old boy immediately went over to a group of 6 grownups that were visiting from the Netherlands. The little boy jumped on the back of the teen girl with the group and tried to push her head under. The teen gently pushed him off her back and turned her back on him. He came around the front and splashed her face. Finally, Dad got involved. He came up and splashed his son’s face and said, “This is how that feels.” The little boy, delighted to finally have Dad’s attention began splashing all adults in the pool. The Dad followed along and thought it was fun. Instead of correcting the poor behavior, Dad now joined in. As this scenario unfolded, I worried that our foreign guests would wrongfully assume this was the way children behaved in the U.S. I was worried they might think our children lacked basic empathy.

Empathy is when children become aware that someone else has feelings just like they do. How do you teach this? First and foremost, you model it. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is how we begin to teach our preschoolers to care. Learning empathy is a crucial building block for learning other kindness skills such as gratitude, optimism, and benevolence.

Photo: Life in Christ Preschool, Albertville, MN.

1.Distinguish Kindness

When you notice your preschooler sharing a toy or a snack with a friend, that is the perfect time to call attention to their kindness. Say something like "That was very kind of you.” “You made your friend feel happy.”

2.Become Steadfast

When we teach our children that words matter and words can hurt, we must be mindful to be steadfast with our own kindness. Be careful not to yell at your spouse for a small mistake, or talk poorly about other relatives in front of your children.

3.Play Identification of Emotions

Make a game and take a few minutes each day to identify different expressions Draw faces on paper plates and call them happy, sad, grumpy, excited. You can also ask your child questions while reading stories. Ask your child if the book character is happy or sad?

4.Demonstration Empathy

If you are frustrated with a solicitor at the door, or maybe at a clerk at a store, use that time to model patience with others. Ask questions like,” I wonder if that person’s job is hard since I believe they work long hours?” “Mommy did not need the thing the person at the door was selling, but that person was doing a good job of meeting lots of new people today.”

Photo: Life in Christ Preschool, Albertville, MN.

Ordinary days present numerous situations to model kindness and empathy for your preschooler. Good luck with your important job. The time you invest now will pay off large in years to come.

Featured Posts