The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is in full swing, and as we head into the end of what has been a challenging year, we can’t help but be filled with an array of emotions. Since March, we have felt all the feels—joy, sadness, anxiety, fear, elation, etc.  You name it; we have felt it, and sorting through those emotions is not always easy—especially for children.

One of the great lessons learned over this past year is how to cultivate a culture of empathy and grow in our ability to understand and share another’s feelings.  Empathy became the foundation upon which all the other emotions were built, and empathy is what can help you sort through the complexities of 2020 with your children.

Here are five ways you can help your children practice empathy:

1. Talk about and name feelings

Help your children validate and name their feelings.  Avoid saying things like, “You shouldn’t be angry about e-learning,” and instead let your children feel their feelings.  If your child is having trouble naming how they feel, look for picture books or videos or play “emotion charades” where children act out emotions and discuss times when they have also felt like that. You can also try the emotional snowman project referenced below. 


2. Point out other people’s feelings

Children may not automatically notice how other people feel, so it is also important to validate and name others’ feelings.  For example, you could say, “Your sister is feeling sad that she can’t see her friends.  Maybe you could ask her to color with you.” Make a habit of regularly asking your child about friends and classmates, encouraging them to notice how others may be feeling in a situation.

3. Talk to your child about your feelings

Show your child that adults have emotions, too, and learning how to handle them is a part of life.  For example, you could say, “I’m feeling frustrated that I can’t finish my project right now.  I think I will go for a walk to make myself feel better.” Kids need to learn healthy ways to deal with tough emotions.

4. Provide opportunities for children to practice empathy

Empathy needs to be nurtured and requires practice and guidance.  Give your child small tasks to do around the house, emphasize using social skills like sharing with a sibling, practice random acts of kindness in your neighborhood, or send cards to those in the military.  Facilitating activities like this will have a big impact on your child—and the world around them.

5. Create a Kindness Jar

Instead of making resolutions this year, create a jar where you can capture all those moments when family members show kindness, compassion, and empathy.  Start with an empty jar and have everyone write on slips of paper when someone is doing something good that needs to be recognized.  On New Year’s Eve 2021, read through all the slips of paper and celebrate all  you have accomplished.

A great variation of this project is to place a coin in a jar every time someone in your family demonstrates, kindness, empathy or other positive emotions and behaviors. When the jar is full donate the all of the money in the jar to charity. Directions for making this jar and included in the resources below. 

Although this has been a tough year for many, we can still end it positively.  Be thankful for those opportunities we have had to cultivate empathy with our families.

Happy New Year!

By Patti Minglin

Project Resources for Practicing Empathy