How Caring for Living Things Helps Kids Build Empathy

Before leaving for preschool this morning, my four-year-old checked on her jar of ladybug larvae, watered her little flower garden and shared a bagel with her little brother.  She may not know the term, but she was practicing empathy.

Empathy is a skill – one that we can cultivate and strengthen with practice. It requires us to imagine how someone else is feeling and then respond in a caring manner. Picture book author Anna Dewdney offers this wonderful definition: “Empathy is an understanding that other people have feelings, and that those feelings count.”

When kids care for living things – from babies to animals to plants – they exercise their empathy muscles. They learn through experience that

  • 1) everything has needs;
  • 2) these needs are not always identical; and
  • 3) they can help meet those needs.

By Deborah Farmer Kris