Teaching Empathy through Role Play

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I have the privilege today of concluding a 5 part series entitled “How to Cultivate Empathy in  your Child’s Heart. Four inspiring bloggers have written posts each day this week on the topic. Each shares their unique perspective and method to exploring empathy with children. Links to their articles are at the end of this post.

Teaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}

At the moment, my children could use a little help on matters pertaining to empathy. So I took 3 circumstances that our family has recently encountered, and we decided to switch places through role play.

  • We’re going to walk in their shoes.
  • We’re going to record the difficulties, frustrations, and emotions associated with each situation.
  • Most importantly we want to learn how to respond to our empathy.   How are we going to act differently in the future because of it?

role play #1  –  A Broken Arm

We took some Pre-Wrap that my daughter uses to make headbands and made some casts securing their arms against their waist. The day continued as usual.Teaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}


Difficulties and Frustrations with a Broken Arm: (in their words…)

  • Tough getting dressed
  • Even tougher brushing my hair & putting it in a ponytail
  • Only having one hand to play video games
  • Carrying heavy things like the laundry basket
  • Not being able to swim with the other kids.
  • Impossible to tie my shoes
  • It wasn’t comfortableTeaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}

What I’ll do next time a friend has a broken arm: I’ll…(kid’s words)

  • Help them carry their books and backpack at school
  • If we are at the pool, play a game with them that isn’t in the water.
  • Open their door or tie their shoes
  • Braid their hair for them.
  • Say sorry their arm is itchy and you hope they feel better

role play #2  – Being Blind (or physically impaired) 

They took turns covering each others eyes with a scarf. We headed to Target to get school supplies.

Teaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}Teaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}

Difficulties of a physical impairment like being blind:

  • People stared at us.
  • You have to ask for a lot of help
  • I didn’t know what my brothers were laughing at, and I thought it was me.
  • I felt like nobody wanted to play with me.
  • It was hard to find the school supplies I needed.

Teaching Empathy through Role Play [the House of Hendrix}

Even with limited vision, she was still able to swat her brothers.

What I’ll do next time I’m with a friend that is physically impaired

  • I won’t stare even if they don’t see me. I’ll smile instead.
  • I will ask them if they want to play with me because they are a lot of games they can still play.
  • I’ll ask them if they need help finding something or getting somewhere.
  • If something is funny, I’ll explain what it is, so they don’t think they are being laughed at.

role play #3 No food for Dinner

My youngest swapped out our 3rd role play activity to ‘Having nothing to eat for dinner’. I thought it was a fabulous idea since so many children in our country experience hunger on a daily basis. That said, only my youngest participated in this one.Teaching Empathy to children [the House of Hendrix}

Difficulties with having No Dinner:

  • I’m starving all the time
  • I’m staring at other people’s food wishing it was mine
  • My tummy is making noises

Next time I see somebody who is hungry, I’ll…

  • Definitely give them some of my food.
  • Say a prayer that God will provide some food and make their tummy not hurt.
  • Be nice to them because they are probably grouchy.

I participated in this series on empathy because dear friends have walked along side of me through trials not their own. Their ability to empathize with my various circumstances was seen through overflowing compassion upon me. My soul was ministered to. I want my children to have that type of heart…one that not only finds a way to relate to another, but then responds to it with encouragement, hope or a simple hug.

Check our the other articles in this 5 part series “How to Cultivate Empathy in your Child’s Heart”:

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18 thoughts on “Teaching Empathy through Role Play

  1. The pictures show so much! This is a great activity and I like the variety that you presented–from struggling independently to the social struggles that come with challenges. We will be doing this for our next Family Evening. Thank you!

  2. I am so moved by your children’s reactions – what a great step towards developing empathy. Thank you so much for sharing these simple yet powerful exercises!

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  6. The best way to teach empathy is to be empathetic. You can role play all you want, but if your kids hear you complain about poor people or ignore the beggar on the corner…they will learn.

    • Thanks Nancy. I agree. More is caught than taught. Every family is different. Role Play may not be effective for some children, and highly effective for others. I appreciate your reminder to be empathetic ourselves.

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  9. I love that you did this with your kids!  What a great parent you are, and what insightful children you have.  I wish everyone would think about teaching empathy; the world would likely be a kinder place.  As on occupational therapist who works with individuals with disabilities, I would add only one tiny thing: instead of saying “physically impaired friend,” I would put the person first, as in “friend who has a physical disability.”  Your kids can even be ambassadors for People First Language (see the following link for more info and a pledge you can take: http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/explore/people-first-language).  Thanks for posting this!

  10. I love this exercise! I think doing is often the best way of learning and it seems your children learned empathy in addition to other valuable lessons, such as the importance of sharing and being quick to help. I especially like how you carried the lesson that one extra step of “What I will do next time…” Thank you for sharing your lesson and experience!

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