Teaching Empathy in Children

When a parent goes to an IEP meeting one of the questions the team asks the caregiver is, What do you want for your child’s future?

What do you say to that? It is an impossibly broad question that has infinite answers. As a teacher of children with special needs (or special rights, a Reggio term we prefer) I asked that question to parents and recorded answers. I never really thought about the enormity of that question until someone asked me. I remember looking at the teacher and thinking...

What do you mean? Emotionally? Socially? Academically? Professionally? Do you mean in five years? Ten Years? Twenty years?

I was overwhelmed by the question. My husband and I could talk for days on the topic and just scratch the surface. After hearing the question several times and tripping over the answer I finally trimmed it down to a few sentences about college, general happiness, and some other traits I would love to see nurtured in our wonderful kid. The team was not really looking for anything poetic. Just a general idea of our goals for our child.

Over the last few years I have been thinking a lot about what I want for my kids (honestly from society in general!). As I read about gun violence on a college campus, a child taking their own life, and the hate permeating much of society I now have a better answer to what I want for my children’s future.

Do I want them to go to college? Sure, that would be amazing! Do I want them to have good paying jobs? Yes! Do I want them to find partners and have children? You bet! That being said, there are plenty of people that go to college, have good paying jobs, and find a partner and have children.

But I want my children to do accomplish more than a checklist of traditional to do’s in life. I want them to have more than a degree, a job, and a family. An individual can have those things and still not be a fundamentally good human being.

What I really want is this...

I want my children to be kind, empathic individuals whose inquiring minds are out to make a difference in this world.

I want my children to give back to society and to spread kindness and love to ALL the diverse members of their community.

As educators and parents we can lay the foundation of kindness and empathy early in life. You do this work every day. When you pick up your crying baby and gently rock them while singing a sweet song. When you cuddle an upset toddler and patch up their scraped knee. When you are there listening and supporting as two preschool friends try to work out a conflict. When your child sees you exchanging kind words with the check out person at the grocery store or hold the door for a stranger. When you welcome a family of a different race, religion, or family structure  into your classroom/school warmly and genuinely..

Parents and early childhood educators have an amazing opportunity to help shape the next generation by the way we model caring, kindness, and empathy.

I have shared a few resources below that I hope you check out. They are all very quick reads and give you some quick ideas of how you can foster empathy and kindness in the children in your community!