Teaching Empathy to Your Children
Being a great reader is important, so we teach our children to read. Learning math is essential, so we teach our children math. Indeed, children spend hours each week dedicated to learning these building blocks of academia, all for the purpose of setting children up for success into adulthood. Yet one of the most important things we all need to work on is one that is not always given nearly as much attention.
Empathy is one of the greatest skills a person can have, and is truly a critical part of the human experience. Whereas empathy is not necessarily a subject that has specific hours and lessons devoted to its teachings and practice, there are so many ways to implement it into daily conversations and routines. At Resurrection Christian School, we do a lot to ensure empathy is being practiced and taught, and are happy to share some ideas with you and your family. Read on to learn more about bringing a focus of empathy into your home, and contact RCS for enrollment information and more!
The Importance of Acceptance
Many place an emphasis on tolerance, but tolerance is really not quite enough. Tolerance implies a basic, apathetic response to the behaviors or beliefs of another. This is not to say tolerance is a bad thing, but when we can move past tolerance into acceptance is when we are truly succeeding.
From the playground to the classroom to the college lecture hall and beyond, our children will face a wonderful amount of diversity in background, belief systems, and more. When we work on teaching acceptance, we help children understand there is somuch more to the world they know. There truly is no one “right” way to a situation, and this is something that Jesus worked at teaching us.
Matthew is one of the best chapters in the Bible to serve as a starting point for God’smessages on love and acceptance. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” He goes on to say, “‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be jduged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’” (Matthew 7:1-2).
The purpose of these teachings is that regardless of beliefs or cultures, we show love to all. We accept and cherish our neighbors, whether they live next door or several continents away. There is never room to see ourselves as better or above anyone else. In fact, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies—something so much harder to do in practice, but something so essential.
Lessons at Home
For younger children and preteens, and probably for even many teenagers, there are some amazing books that keep Jesus’ teachings in mind. “The Story of Ruby Bridges” is a phenomenal read for children at practically any age, and is such a great book to have a discussion about. This might be a bit young for those in later middle school years, but the message is still incredible. Ruby Bridges provides an exceptional story of acceptance and loving those who think differently.
Even if your kids are a little old for a picture book, talk to them about her story, and if you happen to have the book laying around, it’s a safe bet that they’ll pick it up at least once. Ruby Bridges is an incredible inspiration, whose story is both timeless and ageless. Discuss the book and her story with your family, asking follow-up questions and reflection questions such as “What was the most striking thing in this story?” and “What lessons did you take away from Ruby Bridges?”
Literature has never ceased to teach us some phenomenal lessons. Use “The Story of Ruby Bridges” as a starting point for conversations throughout the school year and beyond. When we can all practice love and acceptance, we are not only living in God’s way, but we are making a difference in the lives of so many.
The Weight of the Words We Use
The teenage years in particular can be rough. With expanded vocabularies and emotions and hormones running at an all-time high, middle schoolers seem to know exactly what to say to hurt—but they also know exactly how to help with their words as well. So much of the drama that seems to be associated with middle school draws from the “mean” factor, though hurtful words are nothing new to most children by the time they enter their teens.
So much comes back to Jesus’ teachings in Luke, where he says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). He goes on to say, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that” (Luke 6:32-33). Talking with your family about important it is to not only show love to the ones we love, but to the ones we don’t like as well.
Lessons at Home
This activity is an excellent visual for kids of any age. Cut out a heart from paper, and have your children do the same. Think as a family of mean things that could be said to hurt someone’s heart. Each time you think and state a hurtful phrase or sentence, start to fold and crumple the heart. Stop when it’s folded into a completely crumpled ball, and ask what can be done to help someone’s heart feel loved again.
Each time a kind sentence is said, start to unfold the heart. Remind children that it does not have to be a compliment said, but even saying something like “Can I help you with that?” will make someone feel better. Once it’s unfolded, talk about the effect the kind words had.
The best part of the lesson, however, is talking about the effect of the hurtful words. Talk with your family about if the hurtful words ever truly left the person. Discuss with them the impact that their words have—they can truly make all the difference in someone’s life. It’s up to your child if they want to change someone’s life for the better, or for the worse.
Another great visual that is very hands on involves a tube of toothpaste, particularly for preteens and elementary-aged children. On a piece of wax paper, have children squeeze out the toothpaste, saying hurtful things along the way. At the end when all the toothpaste is squeezed out, ask children how to fix it, or how to make a person feel better. Coax them to using an apology if they do not come up with this conclusion on their own. After apologizing, ask the kids if everything was fixed. Talk about how even after hurtful things are said, even after an apology, there’s still a mess. Realizing how important our words are is a critical piece to understanding empathy.
As part of Romans 16:19 states, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” All of us can be quick to judge, all of us have the potential to lash out, and all of us make mistakes. By teaching empathy, we move towards creating compassionate and caring children, who will carry these lessons into adulthood. The school year is on its way, and having continual conversations about empathy will provide children of all ages a wonderful way to navigate the challenges that school can bring. We want our kids to think before they speak, to know the power of their words, and to understand and show love towards those who are different. All of these things are concepts that Jesus wanted people to learn and excel in, and we can still revert back to these teachings today.
More than 20 different denominations make up the student body at RCS, and one thing that every belief system can agree upon is the uniting nature of empathy. We teach our students empathy and compassion, because we believe it is such an important part of life itself. Learn more by contacting RCS, and reach out to us for any enrollment questions you might have.