Empathy is an essential social skill for life. It’s the basis of successful relationships at home, teamwork in the office, and it's the core component of a civilized society in which we treat others the way we want to be treated. But how do you teach kids empathy? For kids, empathy is about seeing someone else’s perspective. We can start by teaching children to understand how others feel, and to acknowledge that different people may feel differently, even in the same situation. Try one of these fun activities that will helps kids learn about empathy and perspective.
Step 1– For a quick lesson in understanding others’ perspectives, place a page on a table with the number 6 printed on it. (Download a print-ready “6” here.)
Step 2– Separate the class into two groups and have each group stand on opposite sides of the table so the number looks like a 6 to one group and a 9 to the other. Ask students on one side of the table what number they see, then ask the other students. Some will say the number is a six, the other’s will say it’s a nine. Next, “turn the table” or the paper, so it faces the opposite direction. Now what number does each group see?
Step 3– Discuss how sometimes people disagree because they don’t see the other person’s perspective. A key element in learning empathy is to understand that people can see the same situation in different ways.
Picture books are a great way to teach empathy because children can learn to read facial expressions and body language from the illustrations. Try the book “What if?”, a story about a young boy who learns to consider how his actions impact other people. Throughout the book, there are plenty of opportunities to discuss how the characters feel in each situation by reading facial expressions and body language.
A great way to bring out empathy is to note the scene in which one boy is pointing at another child and laughing (see images left). In the first image, discuss how each child is feeling. What are the different perspectives of the two children? Next move on to the page when the boy who was pointing is the one being laughed at. Now how does he feel? What does it feel like when the table is turned?
You might like to try the empathy lesson plan or empathy worksheet that go along with What if?.
This video shows a beautiful display of empathy by a youth sports team that just won the world championship in soccer. Despite their glee and success, they are moved with empathy for the other team and put aside their own celebration to offer comfort. It is empathy in action.
Find more videos that teach empathy in our Best of the Web Social Skills Videos.