At the Glazer Children’s Museum, we recently welcomed Dr. Michele Borba, empathy expert and author of “Unselfie,” who gave a profound speech about the importance of empathetic children.
Why does empathy matter? Today’s world is rife with bullying, snark and subtweets. However, if we cultivate compassion in our littlest learners, they will form a more empathetic world. We’re all different, and the ability to share and understand the feelings of another has magical powers, especially for kids. When kids from different backgrounds, genders, races and abilities play together they are practicing key skills such as sharing, exploring and appreciating cultures, and selflessness instead of selfishness.
At the Glazer Children’s Museum, kids can try on different identities that give them new perspectives. In the hospital and vet clinic, kids care for patients who need their help. In the firehouse, they become first responders, sliding down the fire pole and racing to the rescue. In Publix, kids take turns playing the roles of shopper, cashier, baker or shelf stocker. They learn about other cultures in the Global Café, West African Drum Hut and Japanese Pagoda. Playing in these exhibits teaches kids to consider perspectives outside their own.
I keep a copy of “Unselfie” by my bedside and love Borba’s helpful, pragmatic approach to teaching empathy to kids. In the book, Borba reasons that empathy is the root of humanity and the foundation that helps our children become good, caring people, but it’s up to adults to nurture this skill. Borba suggests a few practical ways to cultivate children’s empathy.
- Be Friendly
In today’s hyper-individualistic, plugged-in culture, find ways to create friendlier, caring cultures to help our children see with the eyes, listen with the ears, and feel with the heart of another.
- Break Down Barriers
Expand our children’s familiarity circles to those not like them to open the path to empathy.
- Give Kids a Voice
Empathy is driven by face-to-face connection, and it’s why we must keep the art of conversation alive.
- Play Chess and Unplugged Games
The cognitive part of empathy is the ability to understand another’s thoughts and feelings, to step into their shoes.
- Create Parent Support Networks
Conversations about raising children well, especially in our fast-paced, digital-driven, changing world, can inspire us to think about our parenting and how to align it with empathy-building.
- Build Caring Relationships
Empathy opens where children are in places where they feel safe, accepted and heard.
- Don’t Give Up On a Child
Sometimes, we fail to empathize with our children and see things from their side. We need to get into their shoes and understand their concerns, their fears, and their hearts.