Character Empathy in Action: How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Treat Others With Compassion

Compassion means we care about others, treat them with kindness, and feel a strong desire to help people in need. Compassion is empathy in action. For a five-year-old, compassion might look like giving a hug, making a card, or saying something kind to help a friend or family member who is feeling sad or upset. Noticing someone else’s distress and wanting to respond is the foundation of compassion.

How to encourage your child to be kind and compassionate:

Talk Through Discomfort

Children are sometime wary when they encounter people who look, sound or behave differently than those in their immediate circle. And young kids sometimes ask questions or make statements that parents find awkward or embarrassing, such as "Why is she in a wheelchair?" "How come he talks like that?" or "That's a funny-looking outfit!" 

"Don't come down hard on your kid" for sharing these reactions, says Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd. Instead, listen empathetically and talk through their questions. Ultimately, he adds, "the best way to assuage children's fears is to engage [those we meet] in a very normal way." In other words, children take their cues from adult reactions. In the "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" episode "Daniel's New Friend," Daniel has lots of questions when he meets Chrissie, who uses braces to help her walk. The episode's "strategy song" provides simple language parents can use to help children: "In some ways we are different; in so many ways, we are the same."

Culture Commotion

Providing opportunities to explore the stories, music and language of their own and other cultures can expand your child's appreciation of the diverse cultures in the world.

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Encourage Their Kind Impulses

Use descriptive praise when you see your child reaching out to someone else with compassion. This reinforces their impulse to act with compassion. This might sound like:

  • "Thank you for giving me a hug when I was feeling frustrated yesterday. That was just what I needed to help me feel better."
  • "That was a thoughtful note that you wrote to your friend. I know she's sad about moving away, and your note will remind her of how much you care about her."

Present Time

George loves to give presents. Your child can help George pick and wrap a present for one of his friends.

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Use Empathy to Guide Giving

Before performing a kind deed for someone in need, ask kids to think about what they know about that person — their needs, interests, likes and dislikes — and then write a note, make a gift or perform small act of kindness that matches them.

Edible Bird Feeder

Making a bird feeder for your backyard is easy to do using honey and seeds, birdseed or small fruit. Think about what types of birds are in your backyard and make a bird feeder that best suits their needs.

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Build Good Character Skills with Arthur

Whether facing down a bully, worrying about a new teacher or being the very last person on earth to lose his baby teeth, Arthur and his friends manage to solve their crises with imagination, kindness and a lot of humor.

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Activity Finder: Learn With Your Five-Year-Old

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