Empathy In Children

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 6th Edition defines empathy as the ‘ability to understand another person’s feelings, experiences, etc. with reference to ‘Through the eyes of a Child’ by Norton, empathy refers to the ability to feel with and for others, and not for self. It includes insight into the motives, intents, feelings, aspirations and behavior of others. It is one of the qualities of ‘goodness’ that contributes to effective learning aside knowledge, willpower and planning.

It also includes developing the capacity to understand, develop and sustain effective communication with others. Realizing the cognitive and emotional aspects of empathy sets the pace for its influence on the growing child. There are four determinants of developmental milestones in a child: gross motor, fine motor, cognitive process and social interactions; the latter include language and emotions. It is important for children to develop empathy because it is one of the inevitable tools for learning.

As the child grows, learning is ongoing and intensive: it therefore becomes important for the child to learn how to share other’s feelings, understand others including siblings, parents, teachers and friends and be able to communicate these feelings through verbal and/or non-verbal means. Apart from easing their relationships with others, it also helps to hasten their cognitive development, as there is limited friction from relating with others because of empathy.

Since there is emotional stability, there is space for developing cognitive functions useful in the home and in the classroom. There are a number of ways to foster it growth in children: one of this and the important is the home. Parents should instruct kids on how their behavior can positively or negatively affect others, and also teach them what to do to when they hurt people; they should be models of empathy.

Good literature is another tool: it gives instructions on empathy behavior, it depicts life examples of people who show empathy for others like Mother Teresa, Mary Slessor, Mahatma Gandhi etc, how these examples have evolved, and then show them how to pattern their lives in line with the values of empathy.


Norton, D. E. (2207) Through the Eyes of a Child, (7th ed. ) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 6th Edition Cotton Kathleen, Developing empathy in Children and Youth. School Improvement research series.

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