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3 Games for Teaching Empathy: Turning Kids into Caring Children

By Jean Tracy, MSS

Can games increase empathy in your children? It's easy to raise selfish kids. Just give them everything they want. It's harder to teach empathy unless you know how. Games can help.

Empathy is the act of understanding and feeling what another is experiencing. It includes sympathy, compassion, and identification. We observe the feelings of another with our eyes and ears. We respond with our hearts.

Experts say empathy is the cornerstone of character. Let's find out how games can help you build empathy and character in your children.

First: How Character Building with "Describe the Emotion" Teaches Empathy

When reading stories with pictures, ask your child to "Describe the Emotions" of the characters they see. Nap time and bedtime stories provide easy opportunities to help your kids observe and describe emotions.

Flip through the magazines in the doctor's office to find expressive pictures for your children. It will pass the time and help your kids have fun too.

Recognizing feelings with facial pictures is a good step toward building character through empathy.

Second: How Character Building with "Spot the Feeling" Teaches Empathy

When you and your kids are watching TV, play the game, "Spot the Feeling." Tell your kids to "spot the feeling" during advertisements when they notice a character expressing an emotion. When someone answers, ask "How did you know?" Listen to and help them discuss their answers. Give high fives each time they identify and discuss a feeling.

By asking, "How do you know?" you're helping your children to think more deeply about the cues the character in the advertisement is displaying.

This is what we want our children to notice when they see a classmate, friend, or uncool child who is sad, upset, or happy. Realizing others have feelings is a strong step toward empathy.

Third: How Character Building with "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" Teaches Empathy

Take turns with your child and make faces that express different emotions. Facial emotions might include anger, happiness, sadness, fear, shock, shame, surprise, nervousness, upset, silliness, or gratitude. Use the rhyme, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall":


"Mirror, mirror on the wall,
What's my feeling?
Make your call."

Give credit to answers that are close.

Ask, "How would you respond to someone with this facial expression?"

After your child gives some suggestions, it's your child's turn to say the rhyme, make the face, and ask, "How would you respond to someone with this facial expression?"

This game helps your child to think in terms of taking positive actions to respond to others' feelings. Imagine how this game could help your child support a bullied student, ask a child why he's crying, or figure out how to help a needy schoolmate.

Conclusion for Turning Kids into Caring Children

Kids love playing games with their parents. Why not have fun and teach them to care about others at the same time?

Start out with "Describe the Emotion" in storybooks and magazines. Use "Spot the Feeling" to access your children's wisdom in recognizing someone's feelings. Choose "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall" to teach your children to both identify feelings and help others in need.

Many experts name empathy as the cornerstone of character. Why not use games to build a solid foundation for empathy? If you do, you'll be turning your children into caring people with strong characters.

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Pick up the Character Building Kit You can help your young child increase respect.

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