Step 3: Teaching Empathy To The Traumatized Child

Will my kid ever care about anyone else but himself?

Will he ever show empathy to someone else?

I think my child is anti-social.

These are just a few of the thoughts that caregivers of traumatized children have throughout the child rearing years.


Empathy requires that a child care about another person’s feelings.  The reality is, a traumatized child is often in survival mode and can barely take care of his own emotional needs.  There is no way the child can think outside of himself.


Do not give up!


Once a child feels safe and can somewhat regulate his/her emotions, only then can a child begin to feel empathy for others.


The dysregulated brain needs HUGE doses of empathy before it is capable of calming.  Oftentimes, caregivers try to fix a problem or explain why something is happening.  What a child really needs is empathy.


So, what is empathy?  Mirriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Another way of saying this is:  A caregiver understands why a child might feel the way he feels about the situation at hand.


A parent does not have to agree with how the child feels in order to give empathy.


A parent only has to understand that the child is in crisis and needs an understanding response from the caregiver.


Just because a caregiver gives the child empathy, does not mean the child gets her way.


Words a caregiver could use to demonstrate empathy:

“Yes, it’s a bummer when we don’t get what we want.  I understand how you might feel.”

“It’s okay to be upset buddy.  We all feel upset when something does not go the way we thought it would.”

“I know it’s hard to accept no, I’m hear for ya.”


Even adults struggle with change, accepting no, and when our day does not play out like we thought it should.  Letting kids know that we understand how they feel will help ease their pain and let the child  know the parent is connecting with him.


When trying to regulate a child, if all else fails, give big doses of empathy.


Sending you love,


Stacy G. York, LCSW

For More Information on Trauma and Your Child:


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