Building Empathy in Your Children: Teaching Them to Care for Living Things

Category: Education, Kids

“Can we get a dog?” If you are like many parents, you have probably heard this line before…possibly with a cat, a fish, or even a snake.  Your first instinct as a parent may be “who’s going to take care of the pet?” Although pets can be a huge responsibility for young children, having the opportunity to care for living things can help build empathy in your children. Deborah Farmer Kris states in her article that kids begin to “exercise their empathy muscles” when they care for living things. Taking care of living things can teach kids that living things have needs. Furthermore, they may learn that everything and everyone has unique needs. This may help them to understand that hugging people may be ok, but hugging the cat might end in some tears. Through caring for living things, kids can also learn to develop confidence in the fact that they are able to help meet those needs. Even though your kids may be asking for pets, you can still teach them empathy and caring for needs with any living thing, whether pets, plants or people. If you’re hesitant about a pet that may require more responsibility, you can start small. Fish are great pets for young children since they are fairly low-maintenance. You can also purchase a bug cage and have your child search outside for a bug or worm. This may require more research for you and your child to figure out what to feed the bug. Other than pets, kids can also take care of plants. If you already have a garden or indoor plants at home, give your child a watering can and have him/her water your plants. If you don’t currently have any plants, you can also start one from seed. Many flowers grow nicely in a pot! There are also some great options for hardy indoor plants, like snake plants, pothos, or rubber plants. Finally, it’s also important to remind your child that people are also living things that need to be taken care of. Encourage your child to take care of himself/herself by eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, exercising, and sleeping. You can also ask your child for ideas on how he or she can help others meet their needs. So when you hear that plea for a new pet, offer a different suggestion instead. You can offer some manageable choices of living things and let your child pick which one he or she prefers. With minimal help, your child will be on the path to successfully taking care of a living thing.