A WORD FROM THE HEADS
How can we teach our children empathy?
- seeing with the eyes of another;
- listening with the ears of another;
- and feeling with the heart of another.
Care and respect should be as established as the air we breathe.
Social relationships play a pivotal role in helping us become fully human. Connectedness is an essential need for all of us. So we tend to assume it comes naturally and, thus, doesn't need to be taught.
It is only recently that organisations are paying attention and recognising socio-emotional skills as essential to a well-rounded education and need to be taught in school and at home. This is mostly based on growing evidence that they increase academic outcomes and well-being, and employers are increasingly seeking these skills.
One of the most important 'soft skills' we can teach our children is empathy. Why is empathy so important?
- It’s what enables us to relate to other people and their experiences
- It’s what enables us to understand them
- and it’s what makes us compassionate.
Empathy and compassion are meaningful when children know, understand and trust themselves, know who they are, what they have in common with others and what sets them apart. We need to teach our children to be aware and in control of their impulses and emotions so that they are able to focus on how others feel without dismissing their own feelings or letting them get in the way. Only then will empathy and compassion build true connectedness. Teaching empathy also requires helping children to begin to understand and acknowledge difficult areas such as discrimination and oppression and is a first step towards teaching them to care for those in need and make responsible decisions. So a broader skill set will help them think critically about the conditions that perpetuate injustice; think creatively about what they can do, today or in the future, to change those conditions; make a realistic plan that informs their choices and inspires their personal journey, short and long-term; and pursue those goals with resolve and purpose.
So how can we teach this valuable emotion that leads to a fuller and more compassionate life? We as adults must be the most exceptional role models to our children here. Being aware and respectful of feelings, owning our mistakes and using them to learn, being kind to children and adults alike, actively listening to our children, showing appreciation, nurturing uniqueness, recognising our children’s strengths and building their learning experience from there. It takes practice, self-reflection and constant feedback.
So this means that we must see our children as individuals with minds of their own, entitled to opinions, emotions, concerns and preferences; and not as “adults in the making”, “work in progress”, projects of future workers, future citizens, or future parents. Then, what will matter is how they view and experience their own learning. Experiences that spark their natural curiosity, inspire their efforts, grip their concentration, endow them with the joy of mastery, give them purpose, build their confidence, drive them to collaborate, connect them with others and with the world. Ultimately, the goal is for children to be happier, kinder, healthier. This is not to say that who they become in the future does not matter. A child treated kindly, will become a kind adult. It is the natural consequence, but when it becomes the goal, the focus is no longer the child, the person in front of you, but the skill and the future adult. It is about teaching children with empathy and it is the most powerful avenue for building their sense of worth, belonging and purpose.
Family Supper Time
So social skills are the foundation to good relationships. Whether working in a team or in much more informal situations, good social skills will support our children in other areas of life. Being able to communicate to all ages is such a skill. This period of lock-down provides us with a great opportunity to teach our children these ‘soft skills’. Face-to-face communication, exploring open-ended conversations and learning to communicate at a deeper level can surely only be a good thing.
During supper time, when you are all seated together, why not come up with some conversation starters, which will help your children to engage in conversation later on in life. Communicating effectively is such an important social skill alongside:
- resolving conflict;
- being an active listener;
- having empathy;
- managing relationships;
- having respect.
Plan a random act of kindness. Leave a happy note for someone to find.
What can you write that will make them smile?
Pause for thought
Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices. Robert Braathe
With best wishes for an enjoyable bank holiday weekend!
Emma and William
The Friday Feeling
We will lead this week's Celebration Assembly on Monday morning. You can access this via the STGConnected page on the school website.