How to Develop Empathy in Children (and Ourselves!)

When we have grown up in relationships that were not particularly empathic, we may need to practice and consciously work on giving and receiving empathy. And that is the good news, that giving and receiving empathy can be learned, or re-learned, and that if we practice, empathy can become a more natural and reflexive way-of-being-with-others.

1. Adopt an attitude of interest and curiosity about your children’s experience.

Rather than assuming that you know, be curious about what they may be thinking, feeling, and intending. Seek first only to understand their position.

2. Take turns. Taking turns in giving and receiving empathy can be easier said than done. Strive for mutual empathy. We must be able to give the other person a turn at feeling heard, understood, and appreciated. This entails putting our own feelings and perceptions temporarily aside, trusting that if we really listen to the other person, we will also get our turn to be heard and understood.


And we must be willing to take our turn when it is offered; we must be willing to reveal our own thoughts and feelings in such a way as to help the other person understand what we feel and what we need or want. As parents, we need to own our own needs rather than viewing children as “bad” for not recognizing them.


 Anne Wessels-Paris