COMMENT: How reading can teach children empathy

May 24, 2016 Published by

A recent survey by Amnesty International has shown that over half of UK parents consider reading books to be the activity most likely to help develop their child’s empathy. The top book picked for this purpose was the BFG by Roald Dahl, followed closely by To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.


So are parents right? Can reading help with this social skill?

How Reading can teach empathy to childrenBooks can transport a reader into a different world, and show life from a character’s point of view, so it stands to reason that reading can help children to learn how to see things from other’s perspectives, to understand how other people feel and are affected by certain situations.

In fact, Empathy Lab has been founded by a team of people including Miranda McKearney OBE, to promote the very idea of ‘the creative power of words to build empathy and the power of empathy to make the world a better place.’

Empathy Lab works with schools and many other partners from libraries to digital innovators, businesses to universities, writers to parents and carers, to encourage children and young people to develop these skills through reading and creative writing. The company acts on findings from neuroscientists and therapists that show words and stories have a unique role to play in building empathy skills.

So it seems that getting your child reading is a great way to help them start to build on this vital skill. But not all children are natural reader, so we have lots of advice across the site to help caregivers to encourage a love of reading. We would also recommend Alison David’s book, Help Your Child Love Reading.

David is the Consumer Insight Director at publisher, Egmont and a parent herself, so is well placed to offer tips and strategies for parents to help foster reading habits in their children from birth onwards. David also highlights further benefits of reading, including increased confidence, language development and improved life chances.


There are a number of products included in the Good Toy Guide that can really help children to enjoy reading, including….

Alphablocks Reading Programme Recommended by Good Toy Guide Trugs at Home Recommended by the Good Toy Guide Good-Toy-Guide_763_-magnetic-words-Reception-year-R-250x227 G-Toy-G-Tiggly-Words-R

(from left to right: Alphablocks reading programme, Trugs at Home, Magnetic Words and Tiggly Words)


Good App Guide:


Hairy Letters is just one from a selection of literacy apps developed by Nessy which can help teach your child empathy.

It is important to note, however, that there are many other ways that as parents we can help our children to develop their empathy skills besides reading. Play is a great example of this and role play is probably the ideal way to encourage empathy.  In a similar way to understanding the character in a book, children can act out situations as other people and begin to understand how it may feel to be that person.

Role play can be set up with the simplest of props and a bit of imagination, but there are also some great toys on the market that can really help children to get into character, including…

G-Toy-G-Teepee-R-700x587 G_Toy_G_Pretend_and_Play_R-250x227 G-Toy-G-Doctors-Kit-R-250x227


(from left to right: Myweeteepee, Pretend and Play school set, My first doctors kit)


However it is learned, empathy is a hugely important skill for children to learn, as it helps to stop bullying, develops their relationship skills and helps them to fare better in all social environments.



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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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