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Helping Children Identify Emotions of Others and Practice Empathy

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 5, 2014
  • Help children distinguish cues that suggest how another person is feeling. Point out facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and situational cues. "Kaniesha is sad. She has tears in her eyes and her mouth is down in a frown. She fell and hurt her knee." "Seth is angry. His lips are pressed together and his eyebrows are squeezed down. He is angry because his blocks fell down."
  • Conduct class meetings to help children recognize emotions by listening to the tone of a person's voice. Have puppets act out simple scenes and make statements using different tones of voice. When the puppet shouts, "You knocked down my blocks!" the children guess that the puppet is feeling angry.
  • Use photos, books about feelings, and emotion posters to point out facial expressions and body language associated with a variety of feelings.
  • After children have developed a feelings vocabulary and have begun to distinguish emotional expression, ask the questions, "Look at Marco's face. How is he feeling?" "How can you tell he is feeling scared?" "How does his face and body show he is feeling scared?"
  • While reading stories to children, stop occasionally and ask children to identify the characters' feelings in the context of the story. Discuss how the characters' observable behaviors reveal their feelings.
  • Do simple role-plays by asking children, "Show me how your body and face would look if:
    1. You got a birthday present.
    2. A big dog barked at you.
    3. A friend put a worm in your hand.
    4. You found a snake on the playground.
    5. You fell down and tore your new pants.
    6. A friend knocked down your blocks.
  • Help children recognize that people may have different feelings about the same thing; people have different likes and dislikes. "Jason is excited when there is a thunderstorm, but Juanita gets scared." "Timmy likes to climb high on the jungle gym, but Sam doesn't."
  • Help children recognize that their feelings about a situation may change. "Alejandra, you are feeling sad now and want to sit by yourself, but later you may feel differently and may want to join the group at circle."
  • Create concrete ways for children to demonstrate empathy such as a "helping basket" with tissues, Band-Aids, and other items children can use to help another child feel better.
  • Explain the process used to understand another person's feelings and model empathic responses (Slaby, Roedell, Arezzo, & Hendrix, 1995).
    1. Identify the distress of another person. ("Irina is crying—she looks sad.")
    2. Try to figure out what is happening. ("Let's ask Irina why she is sad.")
    3. Figure out what others might feel in the same situation. ("Irina is sad because she tripped on the playground. She hurt her knee. I cry, too, when I hurt myself.")
    4. Assess what the other person needs. ("What would make you feel better, Irina? Do you want a cold cloth on your knee?")
    5. Try to comfort or meet the needs of the distressed person. ("Let's go get a cold cloth and a drink of water for Irina.")
    6. Demonstrate pleasure at the other person's relief or comfort. ("Irina stopped crying. Are you feeling better, Irina? I'm glad you feel better now.")
  • Use puppets or dolls to role-play situations depicting different feelings. For example, act out a situation about a boy who is sad after breaking his favorite truck. Ask the children what the boy might need in order to feel better (e.g., to fix the truck with glue).
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