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It’s not enough for your child to only learn skills pertaining to his or her personal development, although motor skills, cognitive, and physical development are, of course, vital; your child must also understand how he or she fits into the world in relation to others, and be able to develop and nurture meaningful, and fruitful connections and friendships. Such relationships help define who we are as humans, and improve our experiences of the world around us. It stands to reason then, that empathy should be considered a vital human trait; one which your child must learn if he or she is to find acceptance, and success at home, school, and working life.

Teaching empathy to children

As a parent there are numerous things that you can do to introduce and nurture empathy in your child, including praising empathetic behavior, encouraging discussion, and leading by example. The ability to validate your child’s emotions, and to guide him or her through difficult social encounters will go a long way towards instilling empathy throughout your household. However, there will be times when your child’s social and emotional development and behavior are out of your hands; when he or she is at school. Indeed, educational leaders and teachers are just as responsible as parents when it comes to teaching empathy. So how can this be achieved in an environment as rich, and often confusing, as a classroom?

Encouraging questions and discussion

The classroom is a diverse, dynamic environment, dominated by differences of opinion, a variety of cultural and social backgrounds, and a whole range of emotions and actions; not all that children will immediately understand. School is an overwhelming experience for kids from every walk of life, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity for them to grasp empathy, and respect for one another. Classroom discussions about prejudice and understanding can help children to recognize, and embrace the similarities and subtle differences that they share, as well as reinforcing the idea that a little kindness can go a long way.

Specialized programs that promote empathy

Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of empathy, and of educating happy, well-rounded children that could become the leaders of tomorrow. For this reason, Hong Kong international schools are choosing to follow programs that specialize in teaching emotion and conflict management, holistic learning, and respect. Parents can rest assured that their children are learning empathy and understanding in a nurturing environment, while teachers and classroom assistants will be equipped with the resources and knowledge to navigate subjects that can be difficult to approach at times.

Organizing team activities

Whether it’s sporting activities, group presentations or class projects, schools are renowned for their collaborative efforts; children are often encouraged to work in pairs or small teams to complete assessments and coursework. While such an academic approach is a great way to share the workload, and encourage children to examine new ways of thinking, it’s also a fantastic tool in the nurture of empathy. By working side by side children come to appreciate their classmates’ personalities and intelligence, while forging friendships and gaining understanding of one another’s circumstances. Children kept apart by social or cultural divides will often find a new kind of kinship through school collaborations.

Treating children as individuals

When faced with a classroom of children it can be tempting for teachers and educational assistants to view them as a whole; a sea of tiny vessels awaiting their fill of knowledge. However, if they’re to learn empathy it’s essential that children be treated, and taught as the individuals that they truly are. Every child is entitled to his or her opinions, emotions, and preferences, and by addressing, and allaying these concerns teaching staff can empower those in their care to respect one another; children must be taught to treat each other as they, in turn would like to be treated. Projects should inspire exploration and ignite curiosity; children engaged in such a way are often more fulfilled, content, and eager to display empathy.

My Say

Empathy is one of the many, important building blocks of childhood, instilling in children a sense of belonging, respect, and understanding. We live in an increasingly diverse, and dynamic society, in which people from every kind of background and emotional foundation work, rest, and play alongside one another. Your child’s ability to identify and embrace these differences will stand him or her in good stead for the future; how you, and your child’s school impart such values will be vital to your child’s interactions and success.

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A freelance researcher-writer who has continuously been in such field for more than 10 years. Know more about her here.

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