Developing Empathy in Children- Part 1 Identifying Feelings

Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
IMT 1258
Discovery Institute, P.A.      Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County

       Empathy is the ability to see a situation from another person’s perspective and to understand what they are feeling. This is a skill that not everyone has developed but it is an important one for relationships. The more empathic a person is, typically the kinder they are. This is an important skill for children to learn in order to prevent them from bullying others. There are several things that parents can do in order to help children develop empathy for others.

        Being able to identify feelings in self and others is an important step in developing empathy. Some people take for granted being able to identify how they are feeling and do not realize this is something that needs to be taught. The best way to teach about feelings is to talk about them in your everyday life. Notice the feelings your child is experiencing and name them so they are able to label them in the future. For instance, you see you child working on a puzzle and they begin to pout (or worse) when not being able to get it together and you say to them “You feel frustrated because you can’t find the right puzzle piece.” After doing this for some time you can begin encouraging your child to identify their feelings on a regular basis.

      Once your child is familiar with the different feelings you can begin getting them used to identifying feelings in other people. You can do this by discussing your feelings as well as other family members and friends feelings. This will help them realize that other people have feelings too. It may be easier for children to learn this first from fictional characters. When you read books with your child, you can pause at different points within the book and talk about how each of the characters feel and the reasons for this and also look at the pictures and talk about the feelings based on the facial expressions and body language. It may be helpful to realize that facial expressions for feelings are universal across different cultures!

       More to come on developing empathy in your children in upcoming blog entries. If you are in the Brevard County area and looking for a therapist, please give me a call.


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