Five Tips for Teaching and Nurturing Empathy
Empathy is the ability to imagine how someone feels and offer a caring response to that person and their situation. This is a complex process. As your child grows and matures they will begin to understand that they are a separate individual, that they might have their own emotional response to another child's sadness, and that there are ways to offer comfort when that other child is sad.

Here are five ways to nurture empathy in your child.
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Be a role model.  If your child is afraid of a dog, you can model empathy through your words and actions. You might ask the question, "are you scared?" to gain an understanding of their feelings. You can show that you recognize the problem by saying, "He is a nice dog, but has a loud bark." You can show comfort by offering to hold their hand as you walk past the dog.

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Talk about how others are feeling.   If your child takes a toy away from another child, use it as a teaching moment to point out how their actions might make someone feel. For example, "Kayla is sad because you took her toy. Please give the toy back to her and choose something else play with." 

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Don't ignore difficult emotions.  As adults, we often rush in to fix the situation without acknowledging the emotion a child is feeling. For example, if your child gets mad when you turn off the TV you can respond by saying, "I understand that you are mad because you love watching that show. It's OK to feel mad. When you are done being mad, you can help me make a yummy snack."
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"I'm sorry isn't always the right response. We often insist that a child say, "I'm sorry, "as a way to correct their behaviors . However, younger children don't fully understand what that means. A more meaningful approach is to say, "Chandra, look at Sierra. She is crying and rubbing her arm where you pushed her. Let's see if she is OK." This approach will help your child make the connection between their action and the other child's reaction.
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Be patient.  Empathy is a complex skill that develops over time. Children won't be perfect and there are plenty of adults who are still working to develop their own empathy skills as well. The best thing is for all of us to practice empathy in our daily lives and serve as an example to others around us - including our children.
Q.  Our son's child care teacher insists that the children say "I'm sorry," if they have hurt another child or taken a toy away from someone without asking. I feel that this approach does not fully teach my child empathy. Any suggestions ?
A. It's never a bad thing to say, "I'm sorry." Take some time to visit with your son's provider. Explain your view and how you feel that children at this age don't fully understand what the words "I'm sorry" mean . Give her some examples of how to word responses and don't be afraid to share information presented in this Take Five e-newsletter and other resources.

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