Activities for Teaching Kids to Listen With Understanding & Empathy

by Olivia Zino

Listening with understanding and empathy is a skill that can be taught, not unlike mathematics or science. Engage in fun activities with your children while teaching a better understanding of their emotions. Increasing empathy improves communication, and increasing understanding may improve many things from homework routine to reduction in conflict.

Set a Great Example

Next time you find yourself talking to your child about getting dressed in the mornings, utilize three simple steps. Remember the acronym E.A.R. E is for eyes: Look her in the eyes to increase connection, showing you are listening. A is for attention: Clearly pay attention -- place your cell or magazine down, and turn off the TV. R is for reflect: Repeat her words and reflect her emotions, demonstrating understanding and empathy. For example, "I hear you Suzy, you felt sad when you had to stop playing and get dressed. By modeling good listening skills, your child can learn how to do the same.

Read Together

Reading together is an enriching way to increase listening with understanding. Accomplish this with two specific types of books. Begin with a subject matter book. Essentially, understanding is grasping an idea. Use a book about any topic to facilitate understanding; teachers frequently introduce a story describing a complicated subject, to prompt further discussion and understanding. Secondly, use a book written directly about empathy or understanding. For example, mindfulness is a modern Buddhist philosophy teaching listening with empathy through mindful listening.

Act It Out

Dramatic play also teaches empathy. During sibling rivalries, call a time out and stop the conflict. Have children switch places and take turns acting out the other's behavior. Literally being in the other’s shoes is a wonderful way to increase awareness of that person’s point of view. Alternatively, have children act out typical childhood or family situations, taking turns playing different roles. One example may be being the captain of a sports team or the last one chosen -- another example might be asking children to eat their vegetables and taking turns being the child and parent.

Get Creative

Teach listening through art. Gratitude and empathy interplay. Children learning gratitude for what they have gain empathy for those without. Have children create gratitude bracelets, with each bead representing something they are grateful for, such as a home or enough food to eat. Children discuss difficult feelings easier if they are illustrated first, thus giving the feelings form and providing a safe outlet for discussion. The activity can vary; it's meant as a catalyst for discussion. Your child can draw a picture of his home or create a painting of a body, identifying places and colors for certain emotions. For example, he might paint his head red for anger and his heart yellow for joy.

About the Author

Olivia Zino is a writer and artist who publishes her own blog, She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication and Master of Science in childhood education.

Photo Credits

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