Empathy is often thought of as being able to love and care about other people. When someone has the ability to connect with someone emotionally, understanding why a person may feel hurt by seeing things from their point of view. While that is part of empathy, there are other levels of empathy that a lot of people may not even realize exist.

When it comes to empathy and children, it's important to be aware of these levels. Parents may be trying to teach empathy to their child, raising a good human being and all. Being familiar with the different levels of empathy might help them feel more confident on that journey. Empathy is a learning process. The more parents know, the better equipped they can be in handling it.

Related:Children With Disabled Sibling Show More Empathy

Cognitive Empathy


VeryWell Mind refers to cognitive empathy as meeting people where they are and understanding why they would be feeling sad or disappointed. People may even practice imagining what it might be like to be them at that moment, looking at the situation or circumstance from their perspective

In short, that translates as simply knowing how another person feels. It's like imagining yourself in another person's shoes. However, when a person has or is using only cognitive empathy, they are able to stay at arm's length from the emotional part. They see it and hear it, but they don't feel it.

A study by the Department of Psychology at The University of Virginia found on ResearchGate gives examples of cognitive empathy.

  • If I had been in their shoes, I would have felt the same way.
  • I think they felt nervous on the first day of school.
  • They may have felt frustrated because they couldn't keep up.
  • They were very quiet on the way home because they were embarrassed.

In these examples, it is shown that a person is seeing the big picture, and seeing themselves and their reaction to the same situation. Feelings are not necessarily involved. If parents are looking for empathy in their child, they can listen for statements like these, or even bring up a conversation that may involve statements like these.

People with autism are often thought to not experience empathy. However, one thing that is interesting to point out is that according to studies by Translational Psychiatry, people with autism may only have difficulties with cognitive empathy (recognizing another person's emotional state) but not other forms of empathy.

For example, they may see someone struggling to do something, but not be aware that they need help (cognitive empathy). However, they might notice the person has become upset about it and ask why (emotional empathy).

Emotional Empathy


Social psychology researchers Hodges and Myers describe emotional empathy in three parts:

  • Feeling the same emotion as the other person
  • Feeling our own distress in response to their pain
  • Feeling compassion toward the other person

In simpler terms, it's when a person physically feels with another person. It's as if the person struggling shared with you some of their feelings, and you now feel them too. This is also the type of empathy that might make a person feel nauseated when seeing another person get sick, or cringe when seeing another person fall down.

When a person is exhibiting emotional empathy, they are listening intently. They do not judge the situation or interrupt the individual with their own personal story. It's not about fixing the situation either. Emotional empathy focuses on understanding how the person feels, given their circumstances.

When focusing on the how and why a person needs to look inward on their own life and try to find a time when they went through something similar. Of course, no two people are ever going to go through the exact same experiences and feelings; what is important is that they are relatively equivalent.

The Department of Psychology at The University of Virginia has examples of emotional empathy as well:

  • They were so happy; I started to feel happy too.
  • When I heard what they said to her, I was angry with her.
  • It was a terrifying situation, but I knew if I calmed down, they would too.

With these examples, cognitive empathy is at play by realizing the feelings of others, and emotional empathy is added by feeling the same feelings.

Compassionate Empathy


Compassionate empathy is the third and final level of empathy. While most people feel cognitive and emotional empathy, compassionate empathy is harder to come by.

A study by The Association for Psychological Science states that not everyone develops compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy is a combination of cognitive and emotional empathy. It's recognizing and understanding another person's emotions and feeling them. However, it then goes on to add that it's feeling a strong need to help if needed.

An example of this might be something big, like helping victims of a hurricane. It can be on a smaller scale, though, too, like offering a Kleenex to someone who is crying. Compassionate empathy sometimes needs training, but some people do naturally possess it.

Helping To Instill Empathy In A Child


Harvard Health says that while empathy begins with the capacity to take on another perspective, it is not just that. Empathy includes valuing other perspectives and people. Parents can help instill empathy in their children, along with their children naturally learning it.

  • Empathizing with a child: children can learn empathy both from watching and from experiencing their parents' empathy for them.
  • Showing care for others: It's important that children hear from their parents that caring for others is a good thing.
  • Having children practice empathy: considering other people's perspectives and circumstances with them often.
  • Developing self-control of feelings: Children may not often express what looks like empathy. It's not because they don't have it. It's usually because something is blocking it. Little children have big feelings; they don't always know how to properly act with them. Helping to manage these feelings will help empathy come through.

Sources: Translational Psychiatry, ResearchGate, VeryWell Mind, Hodges and Myers, Association for Psychological Science, Harvard Health