As New Age Teacher, I am often asked about how to build more empathy within children. After giving this question a lot of thought, I always come back to the same idea. We don’t necessarily need to explicitly teach empathy, as empathy is a quality that we are equipped with from birth.
Empathy and compassion are a part of who-we-are as souls living in this particular dimension.
I truly believe that we are each born with the innate ability to love, to receive love, to show compassion, to take in compassion, and to empathize with other living things.
There are definitely true ‘empaths’ walking the earth. An empath is an individual who is affected by other people’s energies, and who have an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. They may feel another living thing’s pain and sorrow, or joy and excitement. An empath can often feel so much of others’ emotions, that it is difficult to separate these emotions from their own. While this is an admirable quality, it can be difficult for an empath to navigate each day, as it is work to continuously feel for others, while remaining healthily detached.
For others, empathy and compassion may be a trait that is a little more hidden. Perhaps the individual who does not consistently demonstrate these traits, has difficulty communicating, is not as self-aware as of yet, has never seen what empathy looks like, or has not had a lot of compassion directed towards themselves, in order to be able to identify with it.
Given that everyone is on a different path and may identify with empathy in a different way, how can we best expose children to the concept of empathy and compassion? How can we teach empathy in meaningful and sincere ways?
New Age Teacher’s answer is this: Model empathy yourself and expose children to situations in which empathy is the natural human response.
With any lessons on the human condition, or about building character, adults, caregivers, and educators need to first look within before expecting children to exhibit these same qualities.
Are you yourself a compassionate individual?
Do you know what it means to be empathetic?
The best way to teach, is to be.
Parents, caregivers and educators can also provide children with opportunities to be empathetic. You don’t have to look far these days, to notice a situation that can serve as a lesson and as an opportunity to feel for others. These lessons are right in our own backyards and span across to the other side of the world. Remember – we are all truly connected.
New Age Teacher recently posted a story that was published about a little girl named Safyre who had been a victim of arson. After losing her family, her home, and all of her belongings, she simply wished for a Christmas in which her card holder was full of cards. What she did not lose, was her spirit.
In sharing this article with my students, empathy was not the direct lesson, but it was definitely the direct result.
You see, that innate ability within humans to love and to care for others, even for strangers living afar, is in us, and just needs to be re-awakened.
As our class read through this newspaper article, watched the video, and shared a discussion, I learned a tremendous amount about myself. At first, I shied away from the tears that were so forcefully trying to make their way through (and they were big tears…you know, when you really get your ugly cry on?).
I was embarrassed. I’m the teacher. They’re the students. They were staring intently at me.
However, I let all of that go – the fear, the embarrassment, the need to control what was naturally occurring in my emotions. I allowed myself to just be.
What came from this experience was magical.
My class decided to make cards for Safyre. I did not give many directions, or instructions on what to include. I just simply shared the story and allowed the students to create.
And create they did.
I have since cried some more. I have not cried tears of pain and empathy for Safyre this time, but tears of overwhelm, love and gratitude for the amount of compassion and empathy that my students displayed.
You see, they did not just make cards in five minutes that said, “Merry Christmas.” Instead, they took time to think about this little girl who was a stranger to them, to truly put themselves in her place, to feel her feelings, to experience her trauma (as best as they could in their minds) and to write heartfelt letters from the deepest parts of their loving souls.
Their letters were a true testament to the empathetic and compassionate beings they are.
I have included some excerpts from their cards to see for yourself. Trust me when I say, these kids understand empathy.
This empathy was always within them, they just needed to be exposed to an experience that would allow it to shine through.
I am in awe of my students. Today, in community we discussed the meaning of empathy and I used them as the examples to illustrate its definition.
Thank you Safyre for inspiring me with your spirit and thank you to my students for truly sprouting your roots of empathy.