Ministry of Education, Guyana

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."

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."

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.


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