Asked by: Kathy Curtis, Winchester
Empathy builds on the ability to see things from another person’s point of view, which most children acquire at around four or five years. But being fully empathic also means being able to regulate your own emotional responses, care about how others feel, understand what they need and respect differing views.
Studies suggest that all of these skills can be taught or encouraged. For example, discussing the emotional content of stories has been shown to increase empathy in school-age children, as does getting children to practise imagining how other people might be feeling.
Children also tend to adopt their parents’ values. So if parents strive constantly for fame, academic achievement or monetary gain at any cost, then their children are unlikely to value empathy very highly. Therefore, teaching empathy begins with showing empathy, and children who feel cared for and secure are more likely to show empathy towards others.
Rewarding empathic behaviour is not helpful, but giving praise can be.