How to Teach Empathy to a 12-Year-Old

friends hanging out

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is an essential life skill.

It fosters connection, kindness, and understanding, promoting healthier relationships and communities.

For children, particularly those around the age of 12, developing empathy can be a transformative experience.

There are some great therapy and counseling resources available to help guide you through this process. 

Here are some strategies, exercises, and ideas to help you communicate the importance of empathy to a 12-year-old.

Parenting Therapists in Colorado

Melanie Klinke, MA, MFTC, LPCC

Melanie Klinke, MA, MFTC, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Dr. Michelle Palmieri, DSW, LSW

Dr. Michelle Palmieri, DSW, LSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Jenifer Seas, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Melody Reynalds, LPC

Melody Reynalds, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Seth Boughton, SWC

Seth Boughton, SWC

(720) 449-4121
Margot Bean, LCSW

Margot Bean, LCSW

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Abigail Corless, LPCC

Abigail Corless, LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Randal Thomas, SWC

Randal Thomas, SWC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 602-1342
Marie Whatley LPCC

Marie Whatley LPCC

(719) 345-2424
Vanessa Curran, LPCC

Vanessa Curran, LPCC

(719) 345-2424

Get Matched to the Right Provider

Complete this questionnaire to discover service providers that match your requirements! No need to provide contact information.

Get Matched

Ideas and Strategies

Model Empathy

One of the most effective ways to teach empathy is to demonstrate it.

Show your child how to respond empathetically in different situations.

This can be as simple as expressing concern when someone is upset or acknowledging another person's perspective during an argument.

Discuss Emotions

Openly discuss feelings with your child. Encourage them to identify and express their emotions, and validate their feelings.

This will help them understand their own emotions and better recognize the emotions in others.

Encourage Perspective-Taking

Help your child to see things from other people's perspectives.

This could involve discussing characters' motivations in books or movies, asking your child how they would feel in someone else's situation, or encouraging them to consider why someone might have acted the way they did.

Role-Play Different Scenarios

Role-play can be a great tool for teaching empathy.

Create various scenarios that require empathy and have your child act them out.

This could range from a friend losing a pet to a sibling not being picked for a sports team.

Talk about how the characters might feel in these situations and discuss appropriate responses.

Use Literature and Movies

Stories are a powerful way to develop empathy, as they allow children to experience different perspectives and emotions.

After reading a book or watching a movie, talk about the characters, their feelings, and the challenges they faced.

Ask your child how they would feel in similar situations and what they would do differently.

5 Kindness Exercises You Can Try

Random Acts of Kindness

Encourage your child to carry out random acts of kindness, like helping a classmate with homework or doing a chore for a sibling without being asked.

Discuss how these actions might have made the other person feel.

Gratitude Journaling

Ask your child to write down three things they're grateful for each day.

This practice can help them appreciate the positive aspects of their lives and the people around them.

Empathy Role-Play

Use role-play scenarios to help your child practice empathy.

They can act out how they would respond in different situations, allowing them to explore different emotions and perspectives.

Empathy Letters

Encourage your child to write letters or notes expressing empathy towards someone they know who might be going through a tough time.

This could be a friend who didn't do well on a test, a neighbor who is unwell, or a family member who is feeling stressed.

In the letter, they can express understanding, offer kind words, or share a happy memory to lift the person's spirits.

The Compliment Project

Ask your child to give genuine compliments to different people throughout the week.

These can be to family members, friends, teachers, or even strangers (with appropriate supervision).

The aim is to make others feel good, and it also helps your child to notice and appreciate the positive qualities in others.

The Importance of Addressing Empathy

If not addressed, a lack of empathy can lead to difficulties in social situations and relationships.

Children who struggle with empathy may have trouble understanding others' feelings, leading to conflicts and misunderstandings.

They may also find it difficult to express their own emotions, which can result in frustration and isolation.

Therefore, it's crucial to cultivate empathy from a young age.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to teach empathy to a 12-year-old?

At this age, children are beginning to form more complex social relationships.

Understanding and sharing the feelings of others can help them navigate these relationships, fostering stronger connections with peers.

Can empathy be taught?

Yes, empathy can be taught and developed through practice.

By modeling empathetic behavior, discussing emotions, and providing opportunities for perspective-taking, parents and educators can foster empathy in children.

What if my child struggles with empathy?

It's important to be patient.

Developing empathy takes time.

Continue to model and discuss empathetic behavior, and consider seeking guidance from a psychologist or counselor if needed.

How can I explain the concept of empathy to a 12-year-old?

Empathy can be explained as understanding and sharing someone else's feelings.

You can use examples, like asking how they would feel if they were in a friend's situation.

By understanding and sharing those feelings, they are showing empathy.

Are there any specific books or resources that can help teach empathy?

Yes, there are many children's books that highlight empathy.

Some examples include "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio and "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" by Philip C. Stead.

These books can spark discussions about empathy and perspective-taking.

What's the difference between empathy and sympathy?

While both involve understanding others' feelings, empathy goes a step further.

Sympathy is feeling pity or sorrow for someone else's misfortune, but empathy is actually sharing their feelings as if you're in their shoes.

How can I encourage empathy in daily life?

Encourage your child to consider other people's perspectives in different situations - this could be a disagreement with a sibling or a news story.

Also, foster an environment where emotions are openly discussed and validated.

My child seems to have too much empathy and it's causing them distress. What can I do?

It's important to teach children that while it's good to understand and share others' feelings, they also need to look after their own emotional health.

Help them learn strategies for coping with overwhelming emotions, such as deep breathing or talking about their

Get Matched to the Right Provider

Complete this questionnaire to discover service providers that match your requirements! No need to provide contact information.

Get Matched


Teaching empathy to a 12-year-old is a process that requires patience, understanding, and consistent effort.

By using the strategies and exercises outlined above, you can help your child develop this vital skill, fostering healthier relationships and a greater understanding of others.

Remember, every child is unique, so what works for one might not work for another.

Stay patient, keep trying, and the results will come in time.

Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

Related Posts



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Already Registered? Login Here
July 17th, 2024

overcomers counseling logo

Explore local counseling and psychiatry services to find the tailored support you require. Embark on a journey towards resilience and become an Overcomer with the right professional assistance by your side!

Contact Us

5585 Erindale Dr. Ste 204
Colorado Springs, CO 80918 mailing
(719) 345-2424 office
(719) 888-5022 text
(855) 719-2549 fax

Business Hours (Provider's hours may vary)

 Sunday   Closed
 Monday   8:00am - 5:00pm
 Tuesday   8:00am - 5:00pm
 Wednesday    8:00am - 5:00pm
 Thursday   8:00am - 5:00pm
 Friday   8:00am - 5:00pm
 Saturday  Closed