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How to Effectively Cultivate Empathy in Children

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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi Dec 28, 2021
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Methods we can use to instil empathy in children during their formative years with the aim of making them kind and empathetic adults.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across the Netflix series Sense8. It had a transgender character, Nomi Marks. And the more I watched, the more I felt like I could see and understand her. Out of nowhere, I had a good idea what it was like to be transgender in a world full of people who are not. All of a sudden, I could empathise with them.
While this is the most vivid example I can come up with, it is not the only one. I have empathised with horses and the cruelty they go through, like having bits through their mouths, after watching documentaries and reading books about them. I have also empathised with people going through debilitating disease. With empathy comes an understanding of another's plight, and kindness, which can make a lot of difference.
Kindness is a trait every human should have, but it is easier said than done. I have found out that people are generally more willing to extend kindness to others when they have had similar experiences or, at least, have an idea of it.
Nobody chooses to have a predisposition for cancer or Alzheimer's disease. Likewise, nobody chooses their sexual orientation or skin color. Still, some people go to extreme lengths to make life hard for other people just because they are not like them and others are unpertubed.
I believe that if people could have an insight into how the lives of people different than themselves go, they will be kinder and more empathetic.
How it Works
Schools should adopt, as part of their curriculums, a robust and engaging model of teaching empathy that includes the following:
  • The use of literature - poetry, novels, autobiographies, etc. - that provide insights into the lived experiences of other people.
  • The use of animations, images, series, movies, documentaries, and other visual content to showcase the lived experiences of other people.
  • Interviews where the purpose is to explore and share experiences with other people, especially marginalized members of society.
  • Immersion programs where they have a real-time experience of other's lives.
On the last point: I once witnessed a kid on the streets hawking a product to another kid roughly his age who was in an air conditioned car. The street kid targeted the other kid because the product is something well sought after by people their age. It was ironic to me because even though the street kid sold and probably desired the product, he couldn't afford it.
Immersion programs will introduce kids to other lives for a specified, safe period, so they can gain an appreciation and understanding of other's lived experiences. It can work like this idea or can be less drastic depending on how safe it is.
By the way, I believe this idea is applicable to adults, too. While it is easier to inculcate empathy in people from a young age, that shouldn't stop efforts to inculcate it in adults, too.
Creative contributions

Empathy experiments

Darryl Koh Yuan Jie
Darryl Koh Yuan Jie Dec 28, 2021
I think many schools already inculcate such values through the examples you have provided, though it definitely depends on location and the standards of schools. While videos and interviews can help cultivate empathy, personally, I think it is best cultivated by allowing children to walk in other people's shoes. Schools can therefore come up with scenarios and experiments such as this and this, to allow children to actually have a first hand experience of how empathy works.
Experiments can vary(eg it does not have to be in a controlled environment within four walls). They can be in the form of much more experimental and creative installations such as this experiment! While it does not allow one to directly experience it, empathy is still evoked through through the use of a mirror(literal reflection of oneself).
The hardest aspect would probably to be able to demonstrate empathy in a concise and uncomplicated manner as I would imagine many kids would not understand what a parking meter fine is as shown in the first video(Or why it would matter). After the experiments, teachers should take the time to explain and allow children to comprehend the emotions they are feeling and how it relates to empathy. Feedback from the children is also important as we need to know what are on their minds to know how to best allow them to develop such values.
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi2 years ago
You are a gem. Your videos cemented my conviction on the importance of empathy in kids.
On what you said about it depending on location, maybe I have a limited worldview, but I don't think these values are inculcated in as widespread a manner as you think.
And while I agree about your suggestion of the best way to cultivate empathy in kids, you have to admit it is not always feasible. Hence, the use of videos and interviews.
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Darryl Koh Yuan Jie
Darryl Koh Yuan Jie2 years ago
Oguntola Tobi Glad to have helped! Hmm that is true, i think it really varies depending on which country you are in and the standard of education.
Definitely, videos and interviews are a great alternative that provides convienience for the teachers too. Sharing sessions between students after watching the videos could help them grasp a understanding of empathy even more.
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi2 years ago
Darryl Koh Yuan Jie That is the idea.
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General comments

Povilas S
Povilas S2 years ago
This idea closely relates to this session.
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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi2 years ago
Povilas S Yes, I see it, too. I think the ideas under that thread can be incorporated into a program to teach kids about empathy.
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