Social Skills How to Help Your Six-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. Six-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 sister gets frustrated when I ignore her”). 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. 

Three tips for helping your child hone their empathy skills:

Read Stories

Research indicates that reading fiction promotes empathy. 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?"

Encourage Perspective-Taking

When your children talk about events at school, on the playground or in the news, help them practice taking the perspective of others: How did their classmate feel in that situation? Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling, and model sharing your own thoughts and emotions. For example, "I felt disappointed because . . ." or "I felt scared when . . ." 

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 a small act of kindness that matches them.

Present Time

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

Play This Game

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, you can point when you notice another child playing alone on the playground or ask your child to tell you about a new classmate — and then talk about how to welcome and include them. 

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 Six-Year-Old

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