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How to help develop your kids’ empathy

Lelia Ingram
Lelia Ingram - June 7, 2018

We are celebrating Empathy Day on 12th June here on Hopster. Empathy Day highlights the power of empathy to make the world a better place through helping children grow in tolerance and understanding.

Empathy Day is a nation-wide initiative founded by EmpathyLab, a not-for-profit organisation. They are passionate about using empathy boosting stories and poems to help kids see the world from different perspectives thus challenging prejudices and building connections between us all.

Why is Empathy so important?

Empathy is the ability to feel what other people feel by seeing things through their perspective. For young children it is an essential social and emotional skill especially when they are just starting to navigate the world of ‘making friends’ and understanding what being a ‘good friend’ means.

At this early age kids can be stuck in an ‘all about me’ phase so it’s crucial to encourage them to look outward as well as develop their sense of self. Teaching empathy can really help with this journey and play a part in creating young adults with a strong sense of tolerance and compassion.

Empathy can be developed

The good news is that a skill like empathy can be developed over time. As Miranda McKearney, director of Empathy Lab says,

“We’re not born with a fixed quantity of empathy, it’s a skill we can all develop, and it’s best learnt young. Helping children develop strong empathy skills is one of the most powerful things we can do both for social change, and for young people’s life chances. If they can see other people’s point of view, and empathise with others’ experiences, they will go on to make great parents, workmates and citizens. Empathy Day on 12 June highlights the power of stories to build empathy, and a better world”

Empathy Lab suggests that choosing empathy focused picture books is a great starting point for young children and can offer powerful insights into others people’s feelings and different ways of life. The 2018 Read For Empathy Guide has some suggestions and the Hopster Book Boat also has some great empathy based stories such as: ‘The Crocodile Under The Bed’ by Judith Kerr.

Download the full Empathy Guide here.

How Hopster helps nurture empathy

With the help of Dog Ears, a children’s media company, we are working on a brilliant new show designed to help nurture and grow kids’ empathy. Saturday Club will launch in early 2019 and it will follow four kids (Jo, Suzy, Jamie and Tian) as they gather every Saturday in their den to discuss their week. Guided by Granda, we’ll see the four friends leap into the lives of people they’ve seen or heard about and explore how they would feel in their shoes.

Accompanying the show will be an exciting new game featuring the familiar characters to help kids recognise various expressions and related emotions.

We are passionate about nurturing kid’s social and emotional literacy skills through our content, so a focus on developing empathy skills feels like an obvious next step for us and Saturday Club is the perfect fit. We can’t wait to share it with you but in the meantime here’s some top tips to develop empathy at home.

Top tips for developing empathy

Sounds corny but empathy needs ‘watering to flourish’. As you spend time with your little ones why not try out some of these ideas…

  • Read for empathy – read a range of empathy boosting picture books
  • Teach vocabulary for feelings – young children especially need the language to share feelings (happy, excited, sad, scared, calm, angry)
  • Help young children decipher facial expressions – use a mirror to have fun with this.
  • Encourage and value simple acts of kindness in your kids
  • Model how to value feelings by acknowledging your child’s feelings
  • Show empathy to others so your kids can learn from you
  • Role-play scenarios e.g. imagine seeing someone drop an ice-cream, can they imagine how they would feel?
  • Help children put empathy into action by helping out with a local charity. In a bid to develop empathy in my girls (3&6yrs) we are joining a community group which helps make up healthy food bags for a local homeless charity. First time for everything!
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