Fostering Empathy

A father and mother interacting with their young daughter


By Sheena Low


In the vibrant heart of Bangkok, where family life intertwines with the city's energy, your role as a parent is pivotal in shaping your child's emotional intelligence. As you navigate the journey of nurturing independence and instilling core values, empathy emerges as a key skill to develop in your little one. But where should you begin? I spoke to an expert in mindfulness and education to gain insight into empathy and learn practical strategies for fostering empathy in your child.


Expert insights and practical tips for parents

Lilly, the dedicated CEO of Mindful Sparks, brings a wealth of expertise to the table, ensuring that educators, students, and the community at large benefit from inclusive mindfulness practices. She takes an innovative approach to guiding parents seeking to instill reflection and empathy in their toddlers.

Understanding and practicing empathy 

Begin by genuinely grasping empathy beyond its dictionary definition and distinguishing it from sympathy. It's about listening and understanding to really delve into the depths of someone else's experiences, rather than just taking uninformed action. 

Go beyond a surface-level acknowledgment by recognizing and addressing your child's emotions. Say "I can see you're upset—let's talk about what happened" to foster a deeper connection through understanding. Or initiate conversations with observations like "I noticed you were really happy when we played. What made you feel that way?" Of course timing matters, so gauge your child's emotional state and choose the right moments to discuss emotions. 

To help your child think about others’ emotions, pause during stories, and ask your child questions like "How do you think the character felt in that situation?" This simple act of reflection lays the foundation for empathy.

Conflict resolution for children

Understanding conflict from a child's perspective is essential. Guide your children through disagreements by asking questions like "How did that make you feel?" and encouraging them to express their emotions through whichever medium best suits them, be it talking, drawing, role-playing with soft toys, or singing.

Be open about your emotions

Embrace vulnerability as a powerful tool. Be honest with yourself and others about how you feel, and hold yourself accountable for challenging moments by apologizing when necessary. By sharing your own emotions openly with your child you create a safe space for shared emotions. This will help your child feel comfortable to express theirs. 

For example, we’ve all yelled at our child and regretted it later. In a situation like this, we can say something like “Sorry baby, I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that”. 

Normalizing conversations

Make discussions about empathy, conflict resolution, and self-awareness a natural part of everyday conversation. During family meals, share observations about each other's emotions and discuss how you can support one another. Address shame by preemptively discussing and problem-solving situations that might lead to embarrassment or shame. Examples could be a spilled plate of food or a wardrobe mishap. By addressing these situations openly, parents can help normalize the experience and minimize the potential for shame.  

Normalizing kindness and gratitude

Shift the focus from grand acts of kindness to appreciating everyday gestures within the family. For example, if someone refills your glass of water, you can comment “Thank you, that’s thoughtful of you to fill my glass back up.” Make kindness and gratitude a regular part of interactions rather than a response to exceptional situations. 

A family ritual where each member shares one kind thing they noticed in the family that day is a great way to focus on everyday kindness. This could take the form of a family gratitude journal where each member writes down, with help if needed, something they are thankful for every day to foster a culture of appreciation. Even on challenging days you can shift the focus away from problems, and toward gratitude and celebrating the positive.

In the long term, by embodying these principles you will empower your children. Individuals raised in an environment where emotional expression is encouraged navigate adult relationships with self-awareness and effective communication skills. Your active engagement in fostering empathy will cultivate emotionally intelligent individuals who face life's challenges with resilience and compassion.


Photos courtesy of Mindful Sparks and Canva.

About the Author

Sheena is a mother to three-year-old August, runs Super Fly Honey, a brand that makes technical activewear for pole dancers around the world, and dreams about writing children’s books. After three years with a lot of yoga, deep friendships, purposeful retreats and IFS therapy, she realises that becoming a mother is actually a superpower.