Social Skills How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Develop Empathy

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. Most five-year-olds understand that other people have thoughts and feelings that are different than their own and that words and actions can influence the emotions of others (e.g., "My mom feels happy when I give her a hug"). Your child can also begin to understand the concept of "hidden emotions": people may feel sad or mad on the inside even if they are not showing it on the outside. 

How to strengthen your child's empathy skills:

Read Stories

Research indicates that reading fiction promotes empathy. Picture books are an ideal way to both expose children to diverse cultures and to 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?"

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.

Dress Up

Playing dress up can help your child develop imagination and creativity. In this game, your child can put together fun and creative outfits for Daniel Tiger and 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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Put Other People on Their Radar

As Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd says, "Almost all kids are kind to somebody and have empathy for somebody. The real work is getting them to be kind and empathetic to people outside of their immediate circle of concern," including people of various races, nationalities, ages and abilities. Parents can help kids get in the habit of noticing and empathizing with people outside of this circle. As a starting place, point out the child on the playground who is playing alone or ask your child to tell you about a new classmate ― and then talk about how to include them.

Super Grover in The Nick of Rhyme

Super Grover is here to save the day! Your child can help Grover find missing items by choosing the correct rhyming words.

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Talk About the Thoughts and Feelings of Others

Give kids practice imagining how other people are feeling. For example, use language such as, "When you took away your friend's toy, how did she feel inside?" Talk to them about how people are both similar and different. For example, we all need food, but the baby can't share your sandwich quite yet. We all need love, but a cat may not want a hug. Some plants require full sun, and some blossom in the shade. Explore how you can help friends, family and community members in ways that meet their specific needs.

Good Sport

Playing catch and talking about being part of a team can help your child develop empathy skills and practice being a good sport.

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Help Your Child Manage Emotions 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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