At Community Education Research Group, development of the whole child is crucial for their success in the DC educational system. This is not only incorporating a researched-based curriculum that covers the DC Common Core Standards, but it’s fostering the socioemotional skills such as confidence and empathy.
In today’s blog, we’ll discuss why empathy should be cultivated in early education and the ways in which it can be implemented!
Empathy in the Modern World
In the US, common concepts and words can describe the state of schools — schools shootings, peer violence, bullying, and zero tolerance. While schools are a place for learning, they have become places where parents and students are faced with difficult circumstances, and this is where empathy comes in.
Empathy is a multifaceted experience — it’s not only the ability to sense others emotions, but it couples with the skill to imagine what someone else may be thinking or feeling. Being able to use incorporate empathy doesn’t always mean that the right thing will be done, but it’s the first step towards meeting the situation or person with compassion.
Why is Empathy Needed in an Early Education Classroom?
When your child enters an early education program, they’re faced with many new challenges and opportunities. Perhaps there hasn’t been much socializing because they’re an only child or they haven’t been exposed to a set schedule. In a world that focuses less and less on face-to-face human interactions, the ability to empathize becomes crucial when it stands against self-preservation and independence. When children are taught empathy early in their educational experience, they become better communicators and leaders while gaining the wherewithal to function within groups and foster cooperation. Having empathy is the ultimate “people skill,” and allows you to cultivate relationships with those who may not be like you.
In the classroom, empathy is recognized and responded to when a peer is hurt or expresses a need, and it’s giving the other person the room to respond and express emotion. A lack of empathy occurs when the child isn’t exposed to those kinds of situations and their feeling towards one another. This is why teaching empathy and allowing it to be expressed in our early education classroom is an imperative piece of their development.
Why Empathy Matters
When an early education classroom teaches empathy it creates an environment where kids can work through their feelings productively and resolve conflict effectively. Here are some other examples of why empathy matters.
- Empathy strengthens the classroom – Because empathy aims to understand another’s experience without first-hand experience, it expands the relationships with the other students. The best part of empathy training in the classroom is the kids can take this skill and expand it globally to every part of their lives. It strengthens the relationships in the classroom and the community in which they live.
- Empathy builds a strong classroom culture – When the kids are able to practice empathy daily, they build a sense of trust and understanding. There is so much diversity entering early education, that empathy is needed to build foundational and highly functional relationships. When an educator fosters and models this, the kids can build and add to a positive classroom culture.
- Empathy cultivates leadership – When a child can both learn and practice empathy, they gain the ability of strong leadership. Strong leaders can listen and empathize with those in need to try and find a solution to the problem at hand so they feel valued.
How To Cultivate Empathy
The best way to cultivate empathy is through modeling — whether it’s the teacher or caregiver. This can be modeling it with them or in front of them with another teacher, and guiding them through scenarios as to what is empathy and what is not.
Teaching point of view is also very helpful. It’s reading a story such as Hansel and Gretel, for example, and examining each person’s side and exploring their thoughts and feeling.
Active listening is important to teach because it’s often what gets clouded in a conversation or conflict. A great approach is to model and teach the HEAR method that uses the following listening techniques:
- Halt – Quiet your mind and tune in to what the other person is saying.
- Engage – Actively ask questions and engage with the person.
- Anticipate – Anticipate the person’s feelings.
- Replay – Reflect back to the person what you hear and the feelings being expressed.
When kids learn empathy earlier it helps them relate to the world around them no matter how different it is. When kids begin to understand the person and situation, it can likely cut down on bullying and violence in schools.
We’ve looked at why empathy is needed in the classroom, why it matters, and how to help cultivate it at home or in the classroom. Continue the discussion on empathy at home and with your kids!