Empathy is taught through nurturing relationships with children
Empathy refers to our ability to feel and respond to other people’s suffering and needs. It is the north-point of the Compass advantage and symbolizes empathy’s outward effect on our social world.
Empathy is not something that can be taught individually. Children must feel understood, heard, and seen by their primary caregivers to develop empathy. Children who feel loved and respected by their primary caregivers, regardless of their external achievements, are more emotionally secure and open to other people’s emotions.
As parents, teachers, or other caregivers, children and teens are exposed to the emotions of others. Children learn to understand others and to feel their feelings. They also develop compassion for others as they grow.
Dr. Michele Borba’s book UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Children Succeed in Our All-About-Me World cites over 350 studies that demonstrate the importance of empathy in children’s healthy development. The Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University has been using the most recent research to help parents understand how important it is to make caring a priority in their family. As with our physical muscles, empathy is strengthened when children practice empathy.
For over a decade, my research has shown that empathy is intricately connected to developing other core human abilities–curiosity, sociability, resilience, self-awareness, integrity, resourcefulness, and creativity. Children become more curious about the world and join others in improving their lives when their empathy muscles are activated. This is a great way to spark broad developmental growth.
Teaching empathy to children does not require rote memorization of simple explanations. Relational experiences are the best way to develop empathy. What does this all mean? What can you do to prioritize empathy in your home and at school?
Simple Framework for Teaching Empathy
Relational experiences are characterized by deep emotional connections and multiple ways of interacting. Relational experiences can often be life-changing and impact us in ways that we will remember for years to come.
Transactional experiences, on the other hand, are short-term and require little emotion. Both types of experiences can be part of learning and teaching, but empathy can only come from the power and practice of relational experiences.
How can you use the FEEL IMAGINE DO SHARE process at your home? Parents can use the FIDS framework with their children to help in times of crisis, such as when a friend is going through a difficult time, a loved one is ill, or a neighbor needs assistance.
Design for Change USA created The #DoGoodFromHome challenge during the COVID-19 crisis. It is a way for kids to experience a simplified version of FIDS from their own homes. Children can make a positive difference in the lives of others, whether they are responding to COVID needs or other needs within a child’s community or family.
Take a survey to learn how often you and your children use your empathy muscles and other core human abilities!
But parents can easily use the simplified framework above to teach empathy at home.