Empathy is a skill ― one that we can cultivate and strengthen with practice. Empathy means that we can imagine what someone else is thinking or feeling and then respond in a caring manner. Three-year-olds are starting to understand that other people have thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes that are different than their own. They are also beginning to understand that their actions can affect the emotions of others (e.g., "If I grab friend's toy, she will feel mad or sad.")
Social Skills How to Help Your Three-Year-Old Develop Empathy
How to strengthen your child's empathy skills:
Model empathy by reflecting your children's emotions and responding with compassion. For example, you might say, "You jumped when you heard that thunder. Thunder won't hurt you, but it can sound scary! Do you want to sit on my lap for a while?"
Research indicates that reading fiction promotes empathy. Picture books are an ideal way to both expose children to diverse cultures and talk with them about struggles people face locally and globally. These three book lists ― curated by Common Sense Media, National Public Radio and the Cooperative Children's Book Center―are a good place to start. While reading, pause to ask questions such as, "How do you think she feels right now?" or "What do you think he needs?"
Playing catch and talking about being part of a team can help your child develop empathy skills and practice being a good sport.Do This Activity
Engage in Pretend Play
When children take on different imaginative roles ― from parent to superhero to a favorite story character ― they quite literally practice putting themselves in someone else's shoes. Dress-up clothes, dolls and stuffed animals can be tools kids use to engage in this type of play.
Playing a face game and mimicking Thomas' facial expressions can help your child better understand emotions.Do This Activity
Talk About Your Thoughts and Feelings
According to research, when parents talk about how they are thinking and feeling, it helps their children's "theory of mind" development. In other words, it shows them that you have distinct feelings that may be different than theirs in a given moment. During the course of a day, try saying, "Right now I feel happy because . . ." or "I feel frustrated because . . ." or "Right now I am thinking about . . . and that makes me feel . . ."
Creating faces on this fun snack can provide an opportunity for you and your child to talk about feelings and emotions.Do This Activity
Help Your Child Manage Emotions with Daniel Tiger
Through imagination, creativity and music, Daniel and his friends learn how to manage big and overwhelming feelings using strategies grounded in the teachings of Mister Rogers.Find Activities
Activity Finder: Learn With Your Three-Year-Old
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Daniel Tiger's Grr-ific Feelings
Your child can play, sing along and explore all kinds of different feelings with Daniel in this app.
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Bert in: Pigeon Trouble
Bert needs to clean his apartment. Your child can help by picking up items and following Bert's directions to put the items in their proper places.