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Why Teaching Kids Empathy is Important for Back to School

Back to school is an emotional time, especially since we’ve just moved and my kids are starting new schools. I’m pretty sure part of winning the mom of the year award includes moving your child during the middle school years. I fondly remember the awkward stages, the hormonal changes, the ‘trying to discover who I am’ stage. That’s a lie, middle school was not my favorite. And I think a lot of kids feel the same way. This is why having a conversation and teaching kids empathy is important.

I also call this talk the “how to teach your child to not be a jerk” talk. It’s easy to have. And all of us parents should have it. I assume we all want our children to have the best school experience possible.

My oldest daughter will start the 7th grade in a new school, in a new state. She already had to start middle school for the first time in 6th grade last year. Now she has to do it again. I can see the anxiety and worry creep up as the time to start school draws closer.

Kleenex® brand sponsored a social experiment and workshop led by researchers at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, to showcase how a gesture of care and other pro-social strategies can help middle school students face the challenges of a new school year. This video was the result.

Watch how these students use care to build self-confidence and prepare for the big, wide world of middle school. #ShareKleenexCare

Posted by Kleenex on Monday, July 18, 2016

After watching, all the emotions hit home. I needed some Kleenex®, because the tears came rolling.

Kleenex helps when teaching kids empathy.

Anxiety. Stress. Nerves. What if people think I’m weird? It took me a year to make one friend. It’s new. These are common feelings expressed by kids who were entering middle school. Please, parents, I’m begging us all to have a conversation with our children to care about others.

Write a note.

I like letters. Real letters. I feel the same way about notes. So slipping one in my daughter’s backpack to remind her to be kind and to let her know she’s not alone is an easy way to communicate with her. Encourage your children to write kind and encouraging notes to classmates. It can be anonymous if they are timid, or they can sign their name.

Teaching kids empathy by writing notes

You can’t be everyone’s best friend.

My oldest is a sensitive one, and sometimes I have to remind her of a little reality. You can’t be everyone’s best friend. Some people just naturally click with others. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give peers more than one chance. Some people need time to really show their true personalities. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and at this age, kids are still discovering what they like and don’t like.

Even if you’re not everyone’s best friend, that doesn’t mean you can’t be everyone’s friend. A friend is kind, respectful, and polite. You can be those things to everyone. If something happens, then teach children how to apologize.


You may not know what to say. You may be embarrassed. Always remember to smile. Sometimes that’s the best ice breaker, and sometimes that’s all someone needs when they’ve had a bad day. Be the one to smile at others. Nice is the new cool, people.

Smiling is a good way to teach kids empathy.

Be interested.

I will often challenge my kids to introduce themselves to at least 2 new people a day. Ask their favorite color. Find out their favorite movie. Do they have any siblings? Be genuinely interested in people.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, teachers, these children look up to us. We can make the difference. They learn behaviors by watching us. Please talk to your children about inclusion, being kind, not judging, humility, and being an all around nice human being.

I’m wishing my daughters and all of your kids a great, successful, first day and first weeks back at school. I’ll leave her a little Kleenex®  in her backpack, too, so she’s ready for some happy tears or tears of relief of making it through. She can even share with a peer who is in need of a tissue. All it takes is one soft tissue to make a difference and to help someone smile.

Back to school with new backpacks and Kleenex.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Teaching kids empathy is so important for back to school. Here are some ways we can teach our children about their feelings and how to be kind to others.

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Ellen M Cusack

Friday 19th of August 2016

Great article Tania, I think some adults could benefit from this too. My boys are older,( still need reminding that kindness matters), but growing up my parents taught us that a kind smile might be the only smile that other child receives all day. I still teach this to my boys and the kids I taught in kindergarten. Life is hard sometimes, but kindness is not. My mother would always say, "you get more bees with honey than vinager". I never understood this growing up, but I completely understand it now. Wishing your daughters the BEST year yet!!!


Friday 19th of August 2016

I agree! That's why I'm hoping the adults are teaching the kids good skills. Thank you so much for reading and your well wishes!