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Creating Empathy in Elementary Kids

From the Parent Cue
Sit through one dinner with your in-laws and a kid who declares, while displaying the evidence, “This is gross!” and you’ll find yourself desperate to teach a little empathy.  Of course, this is about so much more than table manners.

While our kids likely mean no harm, people of all ages have feelings. And we want our kids to respect and honor those feelings. After all, empathy informs how our kids interact with the world at large—especially as they grow.

Thankfully, we can begin to plant the seeds of empathy now that will serve our kids and others for a lifetime.

Realistic Expectations for Empathetic Elementary-Schoolers
You live with the kid, so yeah, you know what she’s like. Still, it might be helpful to set a few realistic expectations about this age group.

As a child moves from kindergarten to fifth grade, she also moves through a transition of sorts when it comes to how she relates to herself and others. It might look something like this:
  • In kindergarten and first grade, she craves undivided attention and all eyes on her
  • In second and third grade, she cares about fairness (primarily for herself)
  • In fourth and fifth grade, she loves competing with others to win at any game

With these developmental truths in mind, take comfort the next time your eight-year-old sneaks a cookie off her little brother’s plate, responding to his cries with, “But I’m older and I need more food!”

This behavior is to be expected. Of course, it doesn’t have to be accepted.
When It Comes to Empathy, There’s Hope for Your Kids and Mine
While our elementary-aged kids are mostly focused on themselves, they’re also growing in ways that make them willing and able to begin understanding the emotions of others.

Observe your kids in the 5-10 year-old range and see if you notice any of the following:
  • A readiness to learn and grow
  • A desire to help and please others
  • A recognition of the fact that people, and circumstances, are unique
  • A yearning for independence
  • A discerning mind that asks challenging questions 
  • A heart that longs for relationship with others
What better soil could we ask for to plant the seeds of empathy?