BlogParenting ResourcesEmpathy vs Sympathy: How to Raise an Empathetic Child

    Empathy vs Sympathy: How to Raise an Empathetic Child

    Diving in,

    Every parent wishes to pass on good values to their children that can help them become better adults. 

    It’s true that parents can’t change their child’s personalities. But they can nurture their emotions to show them how to make the right choices in life. 

    Among all human emotions, empathy is the one that can help you better fine-tune your little person’s personality. 

    Simply put, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings. 

    At times, people confuse empathy with sympathy, but the two are really different. Sympathy and empathy are two strong emotions that are separated by a blurred line. Parents get confused between both emotions and find it hard to teach the right meaning of each emotion to their children. 

    An image of two kids walking together with hands on each other's shoulders

    Read this post to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy, along with the right practices to nurture empathy in your child.

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    What is the Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy?

    Empathy can be well understood by these words of the former US President Barack Obama:

    Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.

    When you teach empathy to children, you are helping them understand other people’s feelings. In contrast, sympathy means acknowledging someone else’s feelings. 

    If sympathy means recognizing emotions, empathy means feeling those emotions. 

    Help your kids understand empathy with the help of this video:

    The difference between empathy and sympathy seems small, but while building your child’s emotional intelligence, it can play a big role. To better understand both emotions, let’s take the help of an example:

    Suppose your child has trouble getting up on time every morning, which makes you both late to start off the day. You can yell at your kid for the same or try to understand why he/she does not wake up on time. 

    An image of a kid sleeping peacefully
    <a href=httpsinpinterestcompin442267625877456228 title=httpsinpinterestcompin442267625877456228>Source<a>

    If you sympathize with your child, you will wake them up yourself every morning. But this will make your kid dependent and lazy.

    Related Reading: Effective Parenting Tips for Different Age Groups

    However, when you empathize, you try to understand why your child is unable to wake up on time. Let’s say your kid sleeps late at night, and that is why he/she can’t wake up on time. So, after understanding this, you now help your child sleep early. 

    In both situations, you understand your child’s problem. But in the second case, you helped your child to learn the good value of sleeping early rather than taking responsibility for his/her problems. 

    Showing empathy can change the situation. It helps you understand the reason behind an issue.

    Why is Stimulating Empathy Important for Children? 

    Helping your child understand other people’s feelings will teach them to accept others. It will help them build a strong relationship with their friends, siblings, teachers, etc. 

    Empathy has numerous layers that can help your child become a good adult, such as: 

    • Promotes social harmony 
    • Strengthens mental health 
    • Helps to succeed personally and professionally 
    • Builds leadership skills 
    • Reduces stress level 
    • Brings satisfaction in relationships, etc. 
    An image of two hands trying to help each other

    How to Teach Empathy to Children of Different Age Groups?

    Understanding of empathy and sympathy emotions will be different at different ages.

    A toddler will embrace the concept of empathy a lot differently than a teenager. Therefore, it is important to introduce empathy to your child at every age.

    We have sorted empathy teaching strategies for children of different age groups. This will allow you to teach empathy properly to your child. 

    Instilling Empathy in Kids

    3-5 Years

    The earlier you help your child understand empathy, the better you can build their emotional intelligence. Since 3-5 years old kids are more curious and adaptive, you can use methods to nurture their empathy.

    Understanding emotions 

    First of all, you should help your children recognize their emotions. To do so, you can ask them questions like: 

    • Are you angry? 
    • Why are you sad? 
    • What made you happy? 

    This will promote emotional awareness among kids and help them to distinguish between different emotions. 

    Read stories 

    Stories are the best way to introduce different emotions to young children. Stories also help in early development and attention building among kids.

    An image of two kids reading stories

    Make a care box

    Teaching intense emotions to young kids like caring for others and themselves isn’t always easy. But if you turn it into a game, you can easily teach children empathy. 

    Put a few tissues, band-aids, and small stuffed toys in a box. Ask your child to help others in distress using things from the care box. This way, when your kid sees someone suffering, they will empathize and even help them.

    Related Reading: Best Tips on Homeschooling for Parents

    Teach in the moment 

    Toddlers’ attention span shifts in a blink of an eye. Therefore, you should teach them empathy in the very moment when you see them being angry or jealous. 

    For example, if your child snatches their friends’ toy, ask them, “How do you think your friend feels?” This will make your child realize their friends’ sadness and empathize with it. 

    5-7 Years

    Teaching empathy to first-graders will require a bit of a different approach to completely help them understand this important emotion.

    Gamify empathy 

    Games and activities are always the best way to teach complex feelings and subjects to children. 

    So, you can play emotion quizzes with children to help them understand variations of different emotions. You can ask them feeling related questions and give a point for each correct answer like: 

    • How can we help someone when they feel sad? 
    • What to do when you feel angry? 

    Acess our library of 4700+ games on Math and ELA and help your child learn with the fun of interactive resources like games and worksheets.


    You can also play pictionary with your children to make them recognize different emotions. You can cut out pictures from magazines or newspapers to exhibit emotions and ask your kids to identify them. 

    Gradually, start with the simple emotions like sad or happy and then move to complex emotions like frustrated, scared, etc. 

    Embrace diversity 

    Give your children the opportunity to play and interact with children of different backgrounds, genders, races, and cultures. This will help them understand how people are different and yet display the same emotions.

    An image showing people of different color

    Create empathy boundaries 

    It is important to teach your kids that they can’t help everyone around them. They should only help someone within a boundary. 

    For example, if another child gives an unwanted hug, teach your kids to express their discomfort. Teach your kids to say no when they don’t feel comfortable. 

    7-9 Years

    Children of the 7-9 year age group know how to express emotions. So, you can use some advanced approaches to teach them empathy. 

    Engaging debates 

    You can read books or situations to your children and ask them what they think about it. Have a healthy debate around the topic and allow your child to freely express their thoughts. 

    Compassion training 

    At this age, your child needs a glimpse of problems prevailing around the world. You can take your child to an orphanage, old-age home, or any other place where they can witness real problems. This will provide them with a visual experience to show empathy toward others in need. 

    9-12 Years

    Practice following activities to instill empathy a little more in your little pre-teen. 

    Join an acting class 

    If your kids are interested, enroll them in an acting class. Performing different roles will build their empathic personality. It will also help them understand the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. 

    Create empathy blocks 

    Create four empathy blocks – Feel, Think, Say and Do. Allow your child to pick an emotion daily. Then, request them to feel, think, say and do something to express that emotion. 

    13+ Years

    Teenage is the last stop for parents to nurture empathy among their children. So, use these tactics with your witty teenagers to help them become empathetic adults.

    Discuss current affairs 

    Read newspapers or watch the news with your teenagers and discuss current events with them. This practice will help build empathy and foster strong opinions in your children. 

    An image of two kids reading newspapers

    Choose volunteer work 

    Encourage your child to pick a volunteer work of their choice and dedicate a few hours to it. In general, this increases your child’s involvement in social and communal development.

    Related Reading: Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effects on the Child

    Empathy Builds Good People & Good People Build a Good Society 

    Do you want your child to grow in a progressive society? Then, you have to play your part by demonstrating empathy. 

    Children learn from what they see their parents do. So, you should always show empathy towards your child and other people. This, in return, will automatically build empathy in your child. 

    At SplashLearn, we make small efforts to ignite different emotions in children via engaging learning games. With over 40 million+ parents as our partners, we’re aiming to transform education for kids and help them become the best version of themselves!

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    Which is better – sympathy or empathy?

    Sympathy is acknowledging someone else’s suffering. In contrast, empathy means understanding other people’s feelings by putting ourselves in their place. So, empathy is more considerate and better than sympathy. 

    Can you have empathy but not sympathy? 

    Sympathy and empathy are both strong emotions. However, empathy involves feeling other people’s emotions, but sympathy doesn’t. Thus, you can show empathy without sympathy. 

    What are types of empathy? 

    Empathy has several dimensions, but broadly, empathy has three components – Emotions, Cognition, and Compassion. 

    Is empathy a trait or skill? 

    Empathy is both a skill and trait as one has to develop empathy traits and learn skills to demonstrate it in the right manner. 

    What is a person with no empathy called? 

    A psychopath is a person who doesn’t demonstrate empathy or remorse towards anyone. 

    Ursula Cruz
    Ursula Cruz writes on the subject of integration of technology in classrooms and the intersection of education and child development. In her free time, she likes going on hikes with her dog, Lucy.

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