Using Books to Teach Your Child About Empathy and Compassion


Developing empathy and compassion are essential skills for children as they navigate the world around them. Instilling these values in young minds is crucial to shaping them into kind, caring and understanding individuals. An effective method of cultivating empathy and compassion in children can be through the use of books.

Parents, teachers and carers can help children learn empathy and compassion through dedicated reading time and some guided practices. There are also books specifically developed to help teach children different emotions and to start conversations about feelings, helping them better understand how their actions and words affect others. 

In this article, we share some tips for helping children learn empathy and compassion through reading, and what you can do to help them with these important life traits. 

Why Empathy & Compassion are Important in Children

Empathy and compassion are important social skills in children. It helps them understand why people may feel a certain way and how to react to those emotions, such as being kind to someone who is upset. Adversely, it can help them avoid upsetting others, helping them make friends and grow bonds with other children.

Research shows children start to gain an understanding of others perspectives around four years of age. This isn’t to say they won’t start to acknowledge or understand other people’s emotions until this age, but it is the age you will notice they are actively interested in what causes people to feel a certain way. It may start with them asking why someone is crying or upset, or even showing attempts at making others happy, such as giving gifts. 

How Books Teach Children About Empathy & Compassion

When children read, they open themselves up to the lives and stories of the characters within them. As they connect with these characters on an emotional level, they begin to ride the waves of the character’s emotions, experiencing the highs and lows of their triumphs, struggles and the challenges they face. They start to imagine situations and life through another’s eyes, helping them put themselves in someone else’s shoes, which they take into their real life.

“Books give children an opportunity to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They start to understand how actions have different consequences, making them think more about their own words and actions in life.”

There are also specific books parents can read with their children to help them better understand different emotions. Busy Books are one type of book designed to teach children the specifics of emotions, what causes them to express different emotions and what may cause others to feel a certain way. 

The My Body Mindfulness Time Printed Busy Book has been recommended by speech therapists, occupational therapists, early childhood educators and paediatric psychologists to help children gain empathy and compassion. Children will perform fun activities, like matching an expression with an emotion, such as a sad face with sadness, to gain a better understanding of different emotions. It’s a great way to help children visualise emotions and what may cause these to happen. The bright, colourful illustrations and hands-on activities help children of all stages and learning abilities be able to focus and learn in a way that’s fun and rewarding. 

Tips for Helping Your Child Learn Empathy & Compassion Through Books

Ask questions.

Reading with your child is important in helping them learn empathy and compassion through books. As you read with your child, take the time to stop and ask them questions about what they have read. For example, if a character was sad, you could ask them what they think made them sad or what you think they could do to make them happy again. It will help your child start to think about other people’s emotions and how they can impact them.

Busy Books give you the opportunity to pause and reflect on stories through activities. As you move through activities, you can have your child stop and add additional thoughts. For example, if they are matching an angry face to the word angry in the My Body Mindfulness Book, you might ask them what has made them angry before and what made them feel happy again. 

Relate stories to real life.

As your child starts to learn about different emotions and shows compassion for characters in stories, you can also relate the events back to real life. For instance, if a character in a story was sad because of a particular event, you could relate it back to something similar in their life. This may be when a sibling made them upset or a friend took their toy and made them feel upset. Connecting stories to real life will help them make connections as they go about their day and think more about how people are feeling.

Be open to conversation.

Some books may touch on difficult or uncomfortable topics, especially as your child gets older. It’s important to create a safe space where your child feels comfortable talking to you about these topics, and sharing how it may make them feel. Encourage them to share their thoughts, emotions and questions. This helps them deepen their understanding and help them develop empathy and compassion towards others facing similar challenges. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you explain compassion to a child?

You can explain compassion to a child as the way we care about each other. This may be how we treat people, showing kindness and by wanting to help people. Compassion is empathy in action, which is a great way to show kids, especially younger children, to understand compassion. For example, you could explain if someone is feeling sad, a hug, making them a card or saying something kind could help them feel happy.

How do I know if my child lacks empathy?

Signs your child may lack empathy include:

- Misunderstanding others’ emotions, such as not understanding why someone is crying.
- Getting confused when others are upset.
- Seeming aloof or cold when others are upset.
- Being unsure of how to respond when others are upset.
- Accidentally offending people.

Helping your child gain empathy and compassion can help them with these challenges.


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