There’s a case to be made that it’s empathy that makes the world go round. And some good news for parents: Empathy is not a fixed trait! You can teach it to kids by modeling empathy (with them and others), by giving them opportunities to practice empathy in action, and by helping them understand their own emotions — which in turns helps them learn to be be perceptive to others’ feelings and needs. Luckily there are some great toys and books out there that can support that process. Here are ten.
Literati Book Box, Vibrant Voices
This box of books, artwork and stickers encourages more inclusive thinking by celebrating stories, voices and artwork from people of all ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, races, abilities and genders. Every book in the box focuses on accepting those who might look, sound or think differently. Plus, the beautiful artwork that comes inside– created by author/ illustrator/ activist designer Innosanto Nagara — can hang in kids’ rooms and offer an ongoing reminder to keep an open heart and open mind when meeting people from all walks of life.
These adorable plush dolls aren’t just pretty to look at; they teach young kids what it means to give — and receive — simple acts of kindness in their everyday lives. We love that the dolls come in a range of races and ethnicities, which isn’t always easy to find! Each one comes with “kindness tokens” which are meant to be exchanged every time your child or their friends do a kind deed such as helping a neighbor, donating toys, or asking how they can help in their own household. Proceeds from each purchase go towards charitable organizations, including the Ronald McDonald House and Project Sweet Peas. An act of kindness in itself.
Get Well First Aid Play Set
This kit not only fosters early brain development and an interest in science and the human body, it helps teach empathy by teaching kids how to listen to others and care for those in pain. The 25-piece kit comes with everything a little doctor needs to diagnose and treat everything that “ails” you: gauze, bandages, a stethoscope and even get-well cards.
Be the Difference
More than just a storybook, Be the Difference is an action-driven, discussion-based activity book that offers over 40 unique ideas your kid can use to foster positive change in their lives and the lives of those around them — and helps them brainstorm even more! Daily discussion questions help get kids thinking about others, like “what have you done to make someone’s day better today?” or “what difference can you make in your school, home or neighborhood?” At less than $10, this book is a budget-friendly buy with big impact.
“Imagine” Meditation Cards
These meditation cards help kids identify and name how they’re feeling — and offer concrete strategies for finding peace during times of distress. This matters a lot: Understanding one’s own feelings is the first step towards understanding the feelings and sensitivities of others. The custom painted meditation cards offer various breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and yoga poses. The kit also includes some blank DIY cards so kids can create their own once they’ve found new practices that work for them.
Kindness is my Superpower
If you’re struggling with a child who is stressed, angry or frustrated and perhaps acting out towards those around them, give them this best-selling book. The story follows Lucas, who learns how to reflect upon and make up for moments when he was rude or unkind to others. The lesson we love most, though: Kindness has the power to change a person’s mood, day or even life. Written in simple rhythmic language, this book is honestly good for anyone age 1 to 100.
This soft and cuddly doll was developed by therapists and comes in a range of different animals who tell stories of resilience, patience, empathy, kindness and gratitude. There’s the slumberkin sloth, which comes with an illustrated book that helps teach kids how to unwind, relax and calm their mind after a big day of exploring. Or the emotionally courageous IPEX (pictured), an arctic mammal who works to overcome the fears that come with expressing his big emotions. Each of the several animals in the collection has a different social-emotional skill they’re working on. Kinda like us human beings.
Feelings & Dealings Card Game
This card game uses 24 expressive feelings cards to illustrate emotions ranging from happiness to curiosity to fear. The overall gist of the game is simple: a player draws a feelings card, tries to guess the emotion pictured, then chooses from another collection of cards that offer ways to deal with said complex emotions. In addition to the feelings cards, there are 24 additional cards that showcase how these emotions can play out in a real life setting — like feeling embarrassed in school or being scared at the doctor’s office — that help you work with your child on productive ways to manage these feelings in practice.
Created during the COVID pandemic to help kids deal with their big emotions, Kimochis are cuddly creatures — there’s an adorable alien, an orange tabby cat, a friendly octopus — that come with smaller companion creatures that each represent a different emotion. Each mini doll fits into the larger one, making it easy to carry everywhere. Simply put, your child can use the mini emotion doll to convey how they’re feeling non-verbally if the words aren’t there yet or they’re too scared. The company is working to get a set of these to every school and child in need right now, a huge initiative that aims to support educators and kids process their feelings around the pandemic.
A Kid’s Book About
Featured everywhere from the New York Times to Forbes and PBS, the award-winning A Kid’s Book About collection – which boasts over 38 titles – features books that cover BIG, BIG topics – like autism, diversity, adventure, belonging and empathy – in engaging language geared towards kids five years and up. A Kid’s Book About Empathy teaches your child how to “feel with someone instead of for them,” giving them a powerful tool to help understand and communicate with people from all walks of life. You can buy each book individually or subscribe to get 1, 2 or 3 “Kid’s Book About” every month.