Why Empathy Skills Are Required For Our Children To Succeed
Our children — the future — have new challenges that we did not face. Schools are increasingly challenged with cultural integration. Now not only must children (through their developmental years) learn about and accept themselves and learn to accept others of their kind, but they must also try to grasp understanding of the world at large, amidst a wave of political instability and intolerance. That is a huge task at hand, and vast empathy skills are required to succeed.
Recent research (as shown at www.empathylab.UK) determines that reading is at the heart of developing empathy in children.
As author of the Land of Dragor children’s series, I work with schools in the UK and internationally promoting the themes of empathy, and inclusion. Having struggled in my youth, as many children do, with the cruelty of other children, I felt driven to write novels that may help youngsters. The main character in my middle-grade series is an empath, a young dragon who is so sensitive to the feelings that he changes colour. Despite his initial alarm at being different, he soon discovers that this is a gift, and begins to use it to help others, promoting the idea that it is cool to be kind. My mission within this adventure setting was always to help children understand that whilst they are different (within their interests and talents and origins) from one another, they are all of equal importance. And furthermore to understand that, we all need the unique skills, of each other, to create a happy society.
My favourite empathy novel is ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne. It is a poignant story about a nine-year-old German boy, Bruno, who meets the young Jew Shmuel (in a concentration camp) at the time of the holocaust. Schmuel, like the other people there in the concentration camp, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. The two boys chat through the wire fence that separates them. Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel takes him from innocence to revelation as he develops an understanding of how Shmuel must feel, and feels the need to help, even at risk to himself.
Exercises we can do to help our children develop empathy:
The characters in stories play such an important role in the development of our understanding for each other – and accepting our differences that it is good to examine them with our children. It is good to discuss who is the favourite, and who is the least favourite character in the books that you have read with them (or that they have read alone) and then to examine why they might behave that way.
Another fun exercise is to discuss the adjectives that describe these characters – the heroes and the villains can be examined at the same time, including those in animal form.
After this you can even let your child’s imagination run loose and pretend they are one of those chosen characters in a written piece of narrative.
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You can read what Selma, The Hersham Hub’s Junior Book Reviewer, thought of The Gift of Charms here