Fostering Empathy

It’s not too early for infants and toddlers to develop a strong foundation for showing empathy

Two toddlers hug in a classroom

At a Glance

Showing empathy means imagining how someone feels and responding with care or kindness. Infants and toddlers are just beginning to develop the skills to recognize emotions, consider others’ perspectives, and respond with care. Educators play an essential role in fostering empathy by establishing secure, warm relationships with infants and toddlers. Young children are keen observers. As adults consider and care for the needs of others, they model those behaviors for young children.

What It Looks Like

A quick glance at ways you can help infants and toddlers understand and develop empathy for others

Recognize Acts of Kindness

Encourage and acknowledge children’s acts of kindness. It’s a great way to help children see how their actions can impact others in positive ways.

Encourage Perspective Taking

Prompt children to consider how others may be thinking or feeling, like this educator does during the book reading. This supports their growing understanding that others, including themselves, experience various emotions.

Highlight Care During Play

Focus children’s attention on the ways they are caring for others, both during pretend play and with peers in the classroom. This fosters their development of empathy.

Book cover for Horray for Hat


Hooray for Hat!

Written and illustrated by Brian Won, this delightful story shows how a simple act of kindness can brighten up someone else’s day by showing we care.


Empathy and Racial Trauma

Use this educator’s guide from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network that lays out how to address racial trauma in the classroom, including how you can model empathy when you address racial trauma.


Modeling Empathy at Home

Written by Amanda Morin for, this blog highlights how adults can show empathy to kids who learn and think differently.


Equitable Interactions in ECE​

In this webinar, Stephanie Curenton and Bridget Hamre discuss an equity lens that educators can use to understand how children of color feel in the early childhood classroom. They also share strategies to ensure children get the right amount of support.

Activity Cards for Infant and Toddler Classrooms

Part of the STREAMin3 curriculum, these activity cards provide simple and fun ways you can prompt older infants and toddlers to consider the perspective of others
Act it Out Activity Card label
using puppets

Act it Out

Use puppets (or an alternative) to act out scenarios and talk about how the puppets feels.

How Do They Feel Activity Card label
using stories

How Do They Feel?

Tell the included stories (or make up your own) and prompt children to consider the characters' feelings and needs.

Partner Play Activity Card label
using songs

Partner Play

In this activity, children sing and move with a partner. You'll change up the words and movements to the song.

Pass The... Activity Card label
using objects

Pass The...

Children consider others as they pass an object to a peer. This activity can be modified in many ways.


Get Our Resource Guide

Includes questions and activities to guide your use of the videos, book suggestions, and activity cards featured for each of the Core Skills