Empathy is an innate human characteristic, and in my opinion one of the most important characteristics we have. Some studies suggest that humans aren’t alone in their ability to empathize with other beings and that animals experience empathy as well. Stories abound about how animals take care of other animals outside of their species. I mean, look at this dog mom taking care of orphaned kittens. Ugh…slayed.
I know I’m not the only one whose feeling pangs of heartwarming joy from seeing that picture. It’s cute because it reminds us of kindness and we are filled with hope that if animals do it, we will continue to experience it as humans too. We empathize with the picture. We as humans aren’t alone in our ability to understand or share the feelings of another being, and it must therefore serve as a survival mechanism. If it’s a survival mechanism it’s important and necessary for survival. That’s pretty simple logic, am I right?
While empathy is innate, it can be boosted through experiences and direct teaching. Sometimes children, depending on their stage of development lack what adults understand as empathy. It’s important to note that a three-year-old child who can’t understand the world outside of their worldview isn’t being a jerk, they’re just being a normal three-year-old. But school age children are certainly able to bolster their ability to empathize with their friends, classmates, and family members. It can be taught through modeling, group work and activites, books, listening, peer mentorship, discussions, and directly teaching point of view among many other ways.
Below are some fun activities I’ve used with children to work on empathy and have fun while doing it!
Mirror Mirror: Teaching children to connect to themselves with loving kindness can help them connect to others in the same way.
Kindess Postcards: This is a fun way to work in letter writing techniques with teaching empathy and kindness.
Friendship Rainbows: A colorful activity to show teach students how to compliment others and build empathy towards friends and classmates.
Empathy Game: a great way to practice looking at someone else’s point of view.
Feeling Chart: This isn’t really an activity on it’s own but it can be really helpful. Often, children don’t have the vocabulary or conscience knowledge of their feelings so something like a feelings chart can be a helpful way to identify feelings. You can use the chart as a starting point for charades, emotions sorting games (for younger children) etc…