Parenting

9 Ways to Teach Empathy to Children with ADHD

Eileen Bailey Feb 24th, 2014 (updated Apr 27th, 2016)
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Children with ADHD often come off as self-centered and aloof. Their inattentiveness makes it seem as if they don’t care what others think, feel or say. Distraction can be mistaken for aloofness. Here are some ways to help you foster empathy in your child:

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Be a role model
Be a role model

As parents, you are the most important person in your child’s life. He or she looks to you to know how to act and how to treat others. When you treat others with respect, show sympathy when someone is sad and celebrate other people’s success, you teach your child to be empathetic.

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Celebrate the successes of others
Celebrate the successes of others

If your ADHD child is struggling in school, you may be wary of pointing out that his sister received honors on her report card. You know how hard your child with ADHD works and don’t want to make him feel bad. He knows that you make a big deal if he gets a good grade on one test and when you don’t make a fuss for his sister, it shows him that he is the only one who is important. 

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Talk about feelings
Talk about feelings

Let your child know what he does that makes you happy. Talk about what things make him happy and sad. Talk about your other children’s feelings. Notice when others are feeling happy or sad, for example, imagine you are in a restaurant and another child drops their food on the floor and cries. You might point out that “She just dropped her food. She looks sad.” 

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Label feelings
Label feelings

Acknowledge when you, your child, or others are feeling something and label the emotion. For example,: “I know you are disappointed it is raining and we can’t go to the park today,.” “I can see you are happy your friend Tommy is coming over to play today,” or “I am excited that my friend is visiting for the weekend.” 

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Point out examples of empathy
Point out examples of empathy

Use books, television shows or real life to point out times when other’s show empathy for someone else. You don’t need to go into long explanations, simply point out different examples.

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Teach problem solving strategies
Teach problem solving strategies

Resiliency or bouncing back from adversity helps build empathy. Help your child cope with negative emotions and disappointment by problem-solving solutions.

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Explain individuality and uniqueness
Explain individuality and uniqueness

Talk about how one situation can be viewed in different ways by different people, emphasizing that each person sees the world differently. Teach acceptance of different cultures, faiths, beliefs and lifestyles. 

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Point out similarities
Point out similarities

Explain how, despite our differences, everyone feels happiness and sadness. Everyone wants to be loved; everyone feels disappointment. Explain that no matter who the person is, they have feelings.

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Practice emotional facial expressions
Practice emotional facial expressions

Research has shown that if someone is sad, and you make a sad face, you are more likely to be empathetic. Practice when reading books or watching television. When someone is sad, stop and have your child make a sad face. Ask him about what he is feeling. Do this with several different emotions.