Promoting Empathy and Kindness in Young Children

Promoting Empathy and Kindness in Young Children


Children enter this world seeking love, comfort, understanding, and empathy. They hope and expect that when they cry, their parents or caregivers will feel their distress and respond to their needs. Babies are profoundly attuned to this reciprocal relationship, they thrive and grow using these early interactions to build their own emotional framework. Around age three, as children begin to interact with the wider ecological system from an advanced level of development, (communication, mobility, coordination, and attention span), we see a shift in the way they perceive and understand their own identity in the larger context of their surroundings.

Empathy and Kindness

Empathy relates to one’s ability to notice, share, understand, and take into account how others feel. For young children who are just beginning to comprehend the complexity of emotions, this can take some time to integrate, process, and apply. Kindness for children means being included, sharing toys/space, witnessing generosity, and being considerate to others. Children at this age are socially and emotionally well equipped to understand when someone wants to be part of their world, and that allowance is reciprocated. Like empathy, this skill also requires time, modeling, and lots of practice. For some children, reacting when someone is sad, and what to do when friends get hurt have been exemplified by parents, caregivers, and teachers since birth. Children who have been afforded multiple opportunities to see what kindness looks like, feel, and displayed between people in their environment, may find it easy to emulate those feelings with peers and siblings. But many children struggle with recognizing how others feel or finding the best way to help, therefore showing kindness might be challenging. 

But there is a lot we can do to support children to strengthen these skills.

Ways to Promote

    Model the way by letting your child see you in an act of kindness.


  • Highlight situations where someone is showing empathy to others, use words that capture what that means, and use facial gestures to help children understand what is better.
  • If you see unkind interactions, let your child know how that feels to others, so they can work more on being kind and empathetic rather than unkind.
  • Build their language skills by introducing and describing many different ways to say kind, generous, empathetic, and considerate.
  • Use affirmations when you see your child doing something kind, hug them, show affection, play with them, and when they ask why-describe what you saw them doing.
  • Avoid giving treats or toys for showing kindness or empathy towards others as that will diminish the intrinsic motivation to engage in such acts.
  • Let them see you make mistakes. If you are unkind, help them see how to correct such behavior so they can see that it takes time to develop skills that last well into adulthood.

Empathy and kindness are critical skills for human development. We can start showing children what empathy and acts of kindness mean beginning at birth and building on these skills during the early childhood period.

Learn more: