Has the art of teaching empathy gone by the wayside? In this day in age, it can be argued that the exact opposite is true and we need now, more than ever, to teach our children why empathy is important.
It is no secret that it seems like the concept of having empathy for one’s fellow man has been brought into question for 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. Teaching why empathy is important has never been more vital.
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
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. We need to start focusing on why empathy is important in all that we do.
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 them why empathy is important.
Teaching Why Empathy is Important Every Single Day
The good news is that understanding why empathy is important can still be taught. There are several ways to go about doing this, and some of them work better than others. However, utilizing any or all of these techniques when teaching your students why empathy is important will almost guarantee they learn how to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
One of the biggest ways to teach why empathy is important is by example. This is not always possible especially if you are a teacher at an inner-city school or you simply do not have the time or money for extracurricular activities. However, there are still several things that most teachers can do to teach empathy.
1. When your students come to you with a problem, do all that you can to help them resolve it. Sometimes this isn’t possible especially if the student has been misbehaving and you have already gone over their limit for the year, but as often as you can, try helping them find a solution on their own.
2. Get to know your students. What are their interests? What causes do they support? The better you get to know them, the better you will be able to understand where they are coming from.
3. Learn how to give feedback without being judgmental or harsh. When providing constructive criticism, focus on what could be done better and less on what they did wrong.
4. Learn how to listen in a non-judgmental way and be sympathetic when someone is in need of your assistance or empathy.
5. Ask yourself why you are doing what you’re doing? Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of working for the sake of working or just doing the bare minimum. Make sure that your lessons are fun, engaging, and relevant for your students. If they find school boring, chances are they will find empathy boring as well.
Easy Activities to Teach 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.
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 if 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).
It’s never too late to start teaching students why empathy is important. 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.
The Long-Term Importance of Teaching Empathy
This is about teaching our children why empathy is important. Even if it may not be the darkest point in history, there are still plenty of reasons it is more important now than ever before to teach our children why empathy should be taught, nurtured, and practiced 100% of the time.
The ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes has never been more important than it is right now. You want your children to be able to survive and thrive regardless of what this world throws at them. There are several reasons why empathy should be taught from a young age.
First and foremost, empathy has proven to make a person a more well-rounded individual. We all want our children to reach their full potential. Living in a world filled with people who have no regard for anyone else is going to make it hard for your child to grow into a compassionate human being without help.
It has also been shown that empathy can help prevent bullying. Bullies usually preen their victims into submission by using techniques like dehumanization. If your child is able to mentally put themselves in someone else’s shoes, they are less likely to go along with the crowd and be a bully.
You also want your children to know how to protect themselves from predators. If your child knows how to help those in need regardless of the circumstances, they could very well prevent something horrible from happening to them or someone else.
Do you want your students to be compassionate and give back to their community? Do you want them to go out and create positive change because it’s the right thing to do? If so, focusing on teaching why empathy is important needs to start taking a front-row seat in your classroom.
People often ask themselves why there are people out there who don’t seem to care about others. The answer is simple; by not teaching our children why empathy is important, they are far more likely to grow up to be self-serving human beings.
Teaching Why Empathy is Important and the 4 Keys
Figuring out how to teach why empathy is important to your specific students isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.
If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.
Julia Tarquinio says
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.
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.