The ability to be able to understand and share the feelings of a fellow human being – empathy – is a social skill that has a massive impact, both on a person and those around them. Children begin to develop such social-emotional learning from a young age. Therefore it makes sense that anyone who has responsibility for young kids plays a crucial role in their development of such a vital skill.
Australia is a global leader in taking a national leadership approach to supporting mental health in education, evolving frameworks such as KidsMatter Early Childhood, MindMatters and KidsMatter Primary.*
Parents, guardians, child educators and anyone who spends time with youngsters at the delightful age of kindergarten (pre-school) and beyond can play a part. And the great thing is that lessons in empathy for children don’t need to be presented as ‘lessons’ at all. Instead, simple fun activities can help individuals in the development of this all-important behaviour.
The following are great ways to easily help a child to explore and develop their empathetic skills.
Different and Similar
This is a fun way to talk with kids about how they differ from each other. You can begin with easy examples such as:
Some children run fast, others run slowly
Some kids are big, others are small
Some like to draw pictures, others enjoy building blocks
And a really good question to ask is, “What would it be like if we were all the same?”
Bring in the fact if everyone really was the same it would soon get very boring. Talk about how these differences allow us to discover and enjoy new things, and that we can work together using each other’s strengths to get to an end result.
The Colour of Feelings
Ask children to list the feelings they know (happy, sad, excited, angry, scared etc). Then ask them to think about what colour each feeling might have. The game can be further extended by adding in the game called,
Feel and Draw
In this scenario you give children a sentence to complete (they can say it out loud), and then draw a picture that shows what you look like when you feel that way.
I feel happy when ……………
I feel sad when ……………….
I feel excited when …………
I feel scared when …………
I feel loved when ………….
The great thing about humans is that we’re prewired to develop empathy. But of course, pre-school kids don’t yet have the cognitive development to actually understand the concept. This is why lessons in empathy – both taught and demonstrated – are so crucial at this age.
There are many other actions adults can do to continually reinforce the message that helps them develop empathy as they grow.
Be generous with praise: When a child performs an act of kindness tell him (or her) how well they did. But be specific. “That was nice of you to stop and help Katie when she fell over. It really helped and made her happy. See how she’s smiling now.”
Teach politeness: And practice it yourself. As soon as your child can verbally communicate encourage him to say please and thank you. And don’t forget to reciprocate. Such demonstrative behaviour is worth a thousand explanations.
Give responsibility: There’s growing evidence that children who learn responsibility also learn caring and altruism **. Kids love feeling valued, and carrying out small jobs and being praised for doing so is a simple, yet effective, method of helping positive development.
Point out other people’s behaviour: If you notice someone behaving kindly, show your child. Encourage them to let you know when they see someone acting in a nice way. Another method of doing this is via picture books. If you’re reading together and there’s a picture of a person smiling or looking sad, ask them why they think they look that way.
As you can see, there are many ways that you can gently encourage a child to develop their empathetic skills. All of the early learning educators and staff at Nido Early School centres are dedicated to helping children in their care develop such essential skills. We fully understand the massive responsibility we have at such a crucial age of their development. And we also understand what a huge decision it is for parents and guardians to select the best early school for their child.
For a friendly chat and to learn more about how we can help with your child care and early education needs, please visit www.nidoearlyschool.com.au