Horizon KidsNew York Times columnist and pediatrician Perri Klass wrote on "Understanding How Children Develop Empathy" and advised readers that there is plenty parents can do to foster a sense of compassion for others in their children. When you send your child to day care, you are providing him or her with opportunities to interact with and demonstrate concern for others but child development begins at home and you can put your child on the right path at home so they are ready to socialize with other children.

Sympathy and Empathy

The article makes a distinction between sympathy and empathy noting that sympathy is demonstrating concern while empathy is feeling the same emotion another feels. As an example of empathy, the writer tells a story about an unhappy baby at a doctor's appointment: the baby who was being examined started to cry and in empathy her toddler brother (who was not being examined) began to cry as well.

Show and Tell

"Parental modeling is important, of course; sympathy and compassion should be part of children’s experience long before they know the words," writes Klass. The adults at home are a child's first teachers so if you want your child to be concerned about others you first have to show concern for the child, as well as others.

Children are very intelligent and have a great capacity for interpreting feelings but they may not be able to verbalize what they know is happening. You can assist your child by explaining. For example, when a character on TV cries, you can point out that the character is sad.

Parents can also "help children see themselves and frame their own behavior as generous, kind, helpful" when they point out that their child has shown concern for someone else.