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These Books and Podcasts Will Boost Empathy

Summer is here and the days are longer and lighter. Whether it is driving to summer school or programming, heading on a family vacation, or simply hanging out at home, kids have more time to engage with stories. Stories do all kinds of incredible things for children, including stretching their imaginations, boosting literacy skills, and strengthening empathy.

Reading or listening to stories allows kids to get lost in characters whose lives both mirror and diverge from their own, building out rich emotional architecture that they use to interpret their own experiences and interactions.

Teenage girl listening to podcast with earbuds.

Whoever tells the stories, defines the culture

But of course it isn’t as simple as handing kids a book or downloading a podcast titled, “Get Empathy.” Nope. That isn’t how empathy develops and it isn’t the best way to get our kids to dial in to the lesson. Giving kids choices about what they read and listen to helps ensure that they actually care about and engage in the content.

Kids and teens also rely on adults to help them develop empathy through reading or listening to stories. Ask questions like:

  1. Has does this character feel? How do you know?
  2. Has anything like this ever happened to you?
  3. What if you were this character? What would you do? What would you say? How would you feel?
  4. Who is missing from this story?

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t shape the menu a bit. For those long summer days, here are some stories that are well worth putting on the book shelves or in the podcast queue.

Podcasts for kids:

  • Brain’s On 4-part series on feelings. This science podcast for kids explores questions like: Where do feelings come from? How do they feel? What do we do with them?
  • Circle Round. Listen to adapted folktales from around the world that focus on kindness, empathy and persistence.
  • Story Pirates. This silly, goofy, and imaginative podcast draws kids in and helps them think like a storyteller.
  • Molly of Denali. First nationally distributed children’s series in the U.S. to feature an Alaska Native lead character.
  • Peace Out. These short stories help children unwind, practice mindfulness, and build emotional-regulation and emotional literacy.

Empathy building book guides for kids:

Podcasts for teens:

Empathy building book guides for teens: