Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about how they feel in a situation. Empathy can motivate us to be good to others, imagine how it would feel to be in their position, and think how we would like to be treated. Our brains are wired for survival, but also for empathy. Teaching kids this valuable skill also helps their development through childhood, as well as in adulthood. Having empathy helps kids build a sense of security, strong relationships with peers, teachers, and family. It also teaches them tolerance and acceptance of others and can reduce bullying instances and aggression. Teaching kids empathy also leads to teaching helping behaviors and kindness. Students who are empathetic are more cooperative in class, more engaged in school, tend to have higher grades, and have overall happiness.
Empathy and emotional intelligence are closely related. People with high emotional intelligence are often empathetic, self-aware, handle conflict well, have good coping skills, strong relationships, good communicators, resilient, levelheaded and authentic. These people make good team players, workers, leaders. Emotional intelligence is probably more important than one’s IQ when it comes to being successful in school, career, relationships, and overall well-being and happiness.
Examples of Empathy:
- Sensing another person’s emotions
- Imagining yourself in another person’s situation
- Feeling sadness for someone else’s sadness
- Feeling happiness for someone else’s happiness
- Feeling strongly for people who share your identity
How to Model Empathy
When teaching empathy to children there are several things to keep in mind and be aware of.
- Make children aware of similarities they share with others
- Recognizing and understanding facial expressions
- Empathy involves perspective taking skills (seeing the world from another’s point of view)
- Express feelings openly
- Emotional vocabulary is crucial
- Do not judge
Martha J. Hollingsworth, LPC