Teaching Kids Empathy

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It is no secret that it seems like the concept of having empathy for one’s fellow man has been brought into question the past several decades.

We are living in a time of political turmoil, premeditated public violence, and an overall numbness to the horrors of society.

I would like to state first and foremost, it doesn’t matter what side of the political aisle you are on. I am not here to debate this. A quick Google search or even watching the evening news will show this is happening.

I am also not saying this is the worst time we’ve ever lived through in history. It’s not good, but it’s not the worst. #historyteacher

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The concerning aspect is that we are all becoming somewhat immune to responding. If you remember when Columbine happened, the United States pretty much shut down for days. Now if we hear about a school shooting, it’s awful and unfathomable, but the news moves on to the next story once they’re finishing reporting.

We need to stop the numbness. We need to become empathetic as a society again.

I’m not saying that all empathy is out the window. I am saying we need to be making a conscious effort to make sure our children are being kind to their fellow man and that we are taking time in making sure we are properly teaching children empathy.

How?

Easy ideas to teach children empathy

I find the easiest way to do this is to give others a face.

What does this mean?

One of the traditional aspects of communication is becoming lost in our technologically savvy world. That’s the art of letter writing.

I tried to have a class of high school students address an envelope once and they had no idea how to do that. They said they’ve always sent everything via email.

Eye-opening.

I’m not saying this is every student, but this concept is something we need to be aware of.

Knowing this, at least once or twice a school year, I would make it a point to do a letter or greeting card campaign with my students for a group in some kind of need.

My favorite way to do this was in November of each year. I would go online and find a military medical hospital that was accepting cards for the holidays (they change whether or not they’re accepting on a fairly regular basis, so you do need to research this). Some years I would also find that they needed donations of items like toothbrushes, candy bars, etc., so I would also encourage my students to bring in items if they were able to.

Then we would take a day with alllllll the arts and craft supplies and I would have my students make cards with personalized messages inside each one. We would discuss what would be appropriate and what wouldn’t be (and students also had the opportunity to opt-out of they were against the concept) and then they would have at it.

Some years, we would receive responses back. One time we actually were able to “adopt” someone specifically, and that response was extremely personalized.

Again, it put a face to a concept, allowed the students to put themselves out there, and then finding out that what they did actually made a difference to another human being had a HUGE impact on them.

The military option is certainly one that is always available. There will always be members of the service who are hospitalized or overseas. They’re not the only option to do this with.

From a curriculum standpoint, I did a project with my World History students where we teamed up with a class in Germany to discuss the impact on their families from World War II. It was even eye-opening for me to see the perspective of those on the western lines that were ravaged by the Russian army. It really changed our perspective, and theirs towards us as well (they were floored that we cared about Pearl Harbor so much).

Our local newspaper came to interview us about the assignment.

It’s never too late to start teaching students empathy. They’re never too old or too young to see the impact they can make on someone else. Classroom activities to teach empathy don’t have to be some long, drawn-out curriculum. They can be on the fly or more in-depth.

Only you know your students and know what will resonate with them the most. It doesn’t matter if you do small things over time or one large activity. This is a life lesson that your students will take with them for the rest of their lives. Make it count…and know you’re making a difference.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Kids Empathy

  1. This idea of empathy is such an important one! I think you are right on the money when you say that it’s because students’ lives are so tech-centered nowadays, they need to be taught empathy. Text messages, DMs, whatever you want to call it has replaced actual human contact. I LOVE the idea of sending cards to our heroes in the hospital. How sweet! And you even leveraged technology to connect with people in Germany to show the benefits of having these types of things at our fingertips.

    1. Thank you, Julia! I think it’s so important that we do as many of the “little” things as we can. When many of us were growing up, this was natural. We live in a very different world today and we need to make an effort to do those things.

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