How do you actually teach kids empathy? 13 parents weigh in.

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Thanks to our brand partner, Red Cross - Hero Kids

It’s never too early (or late) to learn about kindness, patience, humour and gratitude. I’m still learning and very much ‘winging it’ as I try to help my kids learn these values too. But it doesn’t matter if you have multiple children, your kids are grown or you’re a newbie to parenthood, my simple advice is this: model the behaviours you want your child to emulate. 

Whether you notice it in the throes of the daily grind, your children are always looking up to you. 

I’m conscious of not being so caught up in my own bubble that I fail to notice the needs of others. I hope that my kids can demonstrate the same awareness by following my lead.

Let them see you stop to and ask if someone needs help. Let them help you cook food or round-up everyday essentials for people in need at all times of the year, not just at Christmas. Show them that being kind is key to someone’s happiness, as well as your own.

We’ve also signed up for a Hero Kids subscription, an initiative of the Australian Red Cross to help children learn about doing good, which will complement what we teach them at home.

Image: Supplied.


The subscription helps to power the work of Red Cross so they can continue bringing opportunities for young people to shine, comfort in times of disaster and companionship to those facing tough times.

It's $25 per month for six months, and you get a series of activity packs arriving in the mail for your kids.

Despite being *beside themselves* to receive something in the mail meant for them, the packs include a range of fun family activities and simple crafts, including stories to help your minis learn about the importance of being kind, patient, thankful and always having fun. Each pack themed around one of four heroes – Captain Kindness, Patience Pal, Gratitude Giant and Funny Bunny.

The kids have LOVED it, and the conversations it's created between us have been so valuable in getting the kids thinking outside of their own feelings and needs.

Image: Supplied.


Since we’re all in this together, I heard from other parenting heroes within the Mamamia community about how they tackle the empathy lesson with their children. 

Here’s what they had to say.

1. “We have always emphasised the importance of open and honest communication within our family. From an early age, we've taught our girls that no feeling shall be deemed silly, rather we will discuss how you’re feeling, how others’ feelings might have been affected, understanding the ‘why’ of behaviour and talking it through. Understanding our feelings helps us when we find ourselves or others in a similar situation.” – Fiona

2. “My kids recently questioned why there was a mum at school who was bald. I told them about how medicine for some people's health can make their hair fall out. ‘Why doesn’t she wear a wig?’ they asked. I replied that she might not want to or there might not be any wigs available. After talking about The World’s Greatest Shave my daughter cut her long hair – so far has raised $180 and her hair will help make a wig for someone with leukemia.” – Leeann


3. “We often read Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud. It’s become a helpful tool in my toolbox for when my 6yo son has the odd tussle at school to help reinforce that everyone has feelings, and to know the power of being a bucket-filler.” – Kirsty

4. “We have 'kindness' at the top of our family's values list. I’ve explained all along to my daughter that other kids and families have different things going on that we might not know about, so always be respectful, don’t judge and above all else, be kind.” – Kellie

5. "Every few weekends, I ask my kids to think of someone we know who we can help bring some joy to, or lend a hand to. It gets them brainstorming together about who in our lives might be having a challenging time, and might enjoy a visit from us, a bunch of flowers, a card or something like a homemade meal dropped off, to let them know we're thinking of them. I get the kids thinking too, if any loved ones of ours might really need us to run an errand for them (like needing their dog walked, or groceries picked up). They're simple things the kids can be involved in deciding who we can reach out to, and what they might be feeling for us to give our support – and the kids feel so chuffed when they've brought that idea to life for someone in our circle." – Maggie

6. “We have board games that we’ve purchased online to help foster empathy in our kids. It’s fun and seems to sink in more than when I tell them how they should behave.” – Meaghan 


7. “While we’re reading books or watching movies, I ask my kids about how the characters might be feeling in different situations and use that to spark conversations about recognising other people’s valid points of view.” - Belinda

8. “I teach my kids empathy by modeling scenarios on what it is in real life. Unfortunately, they have faced severe adversity already and people surrounded us by caring, loving and showing genuine kindness and compassion. My kids saw this every day for a long time, and I explained to them that just like when we needed people to be there for us, we can do the same if anyone else needs support. My kids are taught to be kind because you never know when you might need someone to be kind to you.”  – Liv

9. “It’s the small everyday moments that demonstrate kindness and empathy; it’s holding a door open for someone carrying a load, it’s offering to give a tourist directions, it’s helping your elderly neighbour bring their bins in. And it’s through leading by example that we teach our children the importance of these traits.”  – Sharon

10. “Teaching empathy to kids is hard. On one hand you want them to experience and learn to tolerate their own feeling fully. And at the same time, think about how others might be feeling in different circumstances. We use questions and discussion a lot. I also try to teach it by showing it – commenting myself on what someone else might be feeling or experiencing, or explaining why I responded to a situation in a certain way. Constantly demonstrating that the world revolves around more than just us.” – Anne

11. “To help my kids learn and understand empathy, we talk about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and chatting how that would feel. We discuss emotions as a whole family and I’m conscious of modelling empathic behaviour by being a considerate and thoughtful member of my community.” – Beth


12. “I remind my two children to treat people the way they want to be treated. I try to encourage them to be aware and ask how they would feel if they were, for example, the new student in class who doesn’t know anyone. I encourage them to approach and ask for them to join in and all play together.” – Lori

13. “Every situation in life can – and should – be viewed from different standpoints. When my daughter relays a tale from school about a child who has acted up or said something mean, I always encourage her to look for the ‘why’ they did it, as opposed to focusing on what they did. Having empathy does not mean having no boundaries. I affirm that just because someone is sad, it does not give them the right to disrupt, interrupt or bully. It can be a difficult concept for a child to grasp, and the conversation needs to be ongoing! What empathy looks like is also constantly shifting. I am trying to hone her instincts to recognise what feels kind, and to always remember there are two sides to every story.” – Alex

Help power the work of Australian Red Cross, and sign your child up to becoming a Hero Kid. The money raised from sign-ups help support the most vulnerable people in local communities here in Australia and across the Asia Pacific. 

By supporting Hero Kids, you can also help protect humanity from the impacts of disaster, conflict or isolation.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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Become a Hero Kid today!
Red Cross is a movement of people – staff, volunteers, and supporters like you – who work together to help others through crisis and disasters. We work all around the world putting friendship and kindness into action.
We’re passionate about helping raise the next generation of hero kids. You’ll learn more about our work through child-friendly stories in your packs.By signing up to Hero Kids, you’re supporting the work of Red Cross to bring opportunities for young people to shine, comfort in times of disaster and companionship to those facing hard times.
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