Empathy is “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another” according to dictionary definition. While it may be a huge task to teach a child how to empathize, there are many tools and strategies on how to develop this emotional skill. However, one of the most effective ways of learning empathy is through reading.
First, your child needs to see you modeling empathy by asking them about how they feel about a particular character, and how you also identify. For example, when thinking about the story of the three little pigs, your child might say they are sad about the pigs losing their homes. Start a dialogue about how it is kind of them to feel the feelings of others, and give them a lesson on empathy.
Carry learning opportunities on empathy into their day if they are in an argument with a sibling or had a tough day at school. Try to relate characters from other stories to the people in their real lives when they struggle to see eye-to-eye. Having these discussions are real learning moments in empathy for your child.
At home, you can easily incorporate empathy into story time. As you are reading, ask your child how they think a certain character is feeling. Ask how they would react if they were in their shoes, and what they would do to help. Have your child identify the needs or wants of that character. For example, in The Wizard of Oz, you can go through each of the characters and talk about how they only want a brain, heart, courage or home. Depending on the age of your child and their level of development, you can even incorporate some reading comprehension by asking how they felt after a previous part of a story. This will further improve their empathy skills as well by having them identify how they were feeling as they read.
With practically any story, movie, book or show, there are characters that your child can relate to. Teach them to always attempt standing in another character's shoes -- especially the ones that seem to be the most different from them. Such practices will encourage them to develop empathy from a young age, be it for a book or in real life!
Carlo, S. (2019). "Stand in My Shoes - Empathy Lesson." [Web]. Retrieved from http://theresponsivecounselor.com/2014/01/stand-in-my-shoes-empathy-lesson.html
Dictionary.com (2020). Empathy. [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/browse/empathy?s=t
Hurley, K. (2014). "How Can I Teach My Child Empathy?" [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.scarymommy.com/teach-my-child-empathy/