What Exactly Is Empathy And How Does It Affect Children?

Empathy is the ability to understand how someone else is feeling or to understand the situation they are in. It is the ability to “put yourself in someone else's shoes” and to understand the way a situation might make them feel.

Empathy comes in many colors

Mary Gordon —has a beautiful program called Roots of Empathy:

“Empathy comes in many colors. Often we think of our ability to see from another’s perspective as the essence of social intelligence. This cognitive form of empathy reveals how we make maps of others’ minds to understand how they feel, what they think, and even imagine ourselves walking in their mental shoes. Others can also “feel felt” by us, sensing that their feelings are in tune with ours—that we resonate with their inner life. This form of emotional empathy enables us to feel close and comforted, to sense that others are connected to us beneath and beyond logic and linear thinking of linguistic language. And even more, others can feel that we are concerned about them, that we have compassion for their pain, take joy in their triumphs.” Mary Gordon Roots of Empathy

Responding to the feelings, needs, and desires of others is at the heart of loving, healthy relationships—which help us feel secure.

As foster grandparents, your consistent presence, your consistent behaviors will help create circumstances for secure attachments to grow between everyone in the classroom. It’s kind of like the idea of harmony, is like having good reception on the radio channel, to being tuned in. If the tuner is off channel , you are very aware of the static, the non harmonious feeling in the room.

John Bowlby, a famous psychiatrist and author of a lot of work on adult-child attachment wrote, “the more that we give young people opportunities to meet with a nd observe first hand how sensitive, caring parents treat their offspring, the more likely are they to follow suit.”

One way to think about this is we put fluoride in the water to prevent tooth decay, we need empathy in the water supply to prevent social decay. Ans schools are just that—our water supply. Schools are the place where we can extend positive influences children receive at home.

“Empathy is when you’re able to understand and care about how someone else is feeling.”

Temperature Check

This is one of the simplest activities we can do  but its potential to encourage a positive emotional state should not be underestimated.

The Temperature Check is as easy as asking a single question at the beginning of class:

“How are you feeling today?”

Not only will this let the students know that someone cares about how they are feeling, it also signals that sometimes they will be feeling something negative – and that’s okay.

We can all use this reminder that we are human, which means that we are all occasionally subject to emotions and feelings that we’d rather not have; however, this reminder can be especially helpful for teenagers, who are likely dealing with more intense and varied emotions than anyone else.

After asking this question, ask the children to turn and talk to their neighbor, share with the whole class or both.

Starting the day with this activity can get students in the right frame of mind to be more kind and empathetic towards one another, and it can alert you to any potential problems with specific students.