| January 22nd, 2007

Teaching Empathy to our Children

As I walked into the preschool classroom I see two boys in the block area building a structure. To respect the privacy of the children, I will call them A and B. The boys are about four years old. While building the structure, A trips over a block that was on the floor, falls and cries. B takes a look and continues building. The teacher comes along comforts the child. While I was observing, I could not help but to question my mind, are we teaching children to be more caring? How can we teach empathy to our kids?

We all want our kids to develop empathy; that essential knack for understanding how another person feels and responding with kindness. We want our children to grow up to be thoughtful, compassionate adults who are “tuned in” to the feelings and needs of others.

For the next several weeks I observed many different preschool and kindergarten classrooms. I was happy to see that teachers are helping children develop empathy. Teachers were teaching empathy by role modeling. One teacher said to me: It doesn’t matter how many words you say to kids, whether they are young or adolescents, it’s what you do that they’ll always take most notice of. So in teaching them empathy, you have to be able to model it yourself!

While I was making an observation in the playground, the teacher said to a child: “Mary looks lonely. Do you think you could see if she wants to play with us?” So they went asked and got Mary to play with them.

In another classroom they were cleaning the hamster cage. One child says: Star (the hamster) is cold, she is shaking. Another girl goes and gets a little rag and puts it on the hamster and says: ‘there, that should keep you warm.’ The teacher says: ‘I am happy to see you found a way to keep Star warm while we clean the cage’.

There are many things we can do to teach empathy to our children. We can start by helping children describe his or her feelings. Help them read facial expression and body language. We can also point out real-life examples of empathy in the news, in history, in our neighborhood or in our faith and community. Have them take care of pets, plants, nature.

The most important thing is to remember that the children are watching us all the time so we have to role model and be consistent in what we do and say. They are watching how we interact with other teachers, parents, and children. At home they watch how we interact with family members. They watch how we interact with other human beings in the community. So lets be more kind, compassionate, caring individuals so our children can learn from us and grow up to be one.

~

More information:

Teaching Empathy to Children Through Benevolent Selfishness 

 

5 Responses to “Teaching Empathy to our Children”

  1. Farhana says:

    Thank you for bringing up the thoughtful subject of empathy. As a mother of a three year old daughter, I have come across many children in this society that do not show any empathy to their friends or play mates. I always wonder whether it has something to do with the values taught in individual families or just independent personalities. But I beam in pride inside when I see or hear my daughter feeling sorry for someone who is hurt or is unfortunate about something. Yes, our children are our keen observers- and they pick up all the good and bad behaviors we portray in front of them.
    I also believe that being able to feel sorry for someone else also teach children to be appreciative about their own lives- for e.g. appreciate the good health when someone close to them is ill, appreciate the food in the table while thousands of children starve in the world, appreciate the peace and love when there are so much unrest and turmoil in the earth we live in.

  2. Sharmin says:

    My expereince says it is the parents who has the biggest responsibility to teach empathy by example. When I grew up I always saw my mother rushing to places whenever someone was in distress. She usually is not an outgoing person though. I thought this is always like this. So I followed the same practice.

    But to my surprise I sometimes find people who are very reluctant in other people’s sufferings. In most cases I found that their parents are also like that.

  3. Salma says:

    I believe teaching empathy to children is getting harder and harder for parents as role playing can sometimes be difficult. In the present time most of the time both parents work and also families are becoming smaller and smaller. A lot of the times a child is at home alone with the mother or the nanny. In both cases as the child plays alone and or interacts with only the mother or nanny the question of showing empathy doesn’t arise that often. As I have a ninteen-month old daughter I take a conscious effort in teaching her empathy by giving her exposure to other children as much as possible. When she behaves badly or insensitively I try to explain to her what she is doing wrong and try to use other kisds as good role models as well.

    Also, I agree with the others that we ourselves have to act as role models because I believe that most of the good things that I learned has come from my parents, specially my mother.

  4. muhammad aumir says:

    I really appreciate your concern for children’s positive upbringing. This is true children start learning even from the lap of mothers and they always try to do the same things which their elders doing. So giving them true real lessons about life one has to become a model for them. As they are quit good observers and they learn all from their observation by the actions of others. If we see our childhood we can remember lots of personalities who had very much influence on our personalities. And we still remember them when we are doing some positive things which we had learnt from them to do in our childhood. Similarly, we have bad or negative things due to some bad or negative influence of our childhood experiences which we had learnt from our elders as well. I recommend that we should be a good positive model role for our kids and we should keep this our model role in our localities, streets and town. So that when children leave their schools or homes they find same attitudes in our streets and town centre. Once again I appreciate your work. Well done; Nadia and keep it up. .

  5. Phantom says:

    Salma,
    Refyr#3,”I have a ninteen-month old daughter I take a conscious effort in teaching her empathy by giving her exposure to other children as much as possible.”—
    Giving exposure so that she learns to bond with others is ofcourse a good step but make sure that priority is that YOU shower yr Love on her- thats what she will remember more and she will learn that Love is greater than hate.Also you will have to help her every step– she will pick up the que.
    “When she behaves badly or insensitively I try to explain to her what she is doing wrong and try to use other kisds as good role models as well.”—
    She presently is too young to understasnd yr long sentences so just a simply NO spoken in normal tone not in high Pitch Volume(she will get confused as to what made u angry) will carry the message– for instance if she is moving some important thing on the table just say NOP n then hand her the toy she is to play with(this an example). BUT the last part “use other kids as good role mode”-Stop that most immediately or else you r heading for future disaster-NO kids like to be compared and I am sure you did the same and even NOW you wouldnt be liked to be compared to others- so that Negative attitude MUST be stopped NOW.
    The example quoted by Sharmin in her #2″ When I grew up I always saw my mother rushing to places whenever someone was in distress.-So I followed the same practice”– a very important point for all mothers.
    Another useful tip for mpthers is Farhan’s $1″I also believe that being able to feel sorry for someone else also teach children to be appreciative about their own lives- ”
    Hope the tips have been useful

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