Author: Amy Giesler, LCSW
Empathy is defined as the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s proverbial “shoes.” It allows us to look outside of ourselves and to be attuned to the experience, pain or struggle of someone else. Even though we all walk different paths, empathy enables us to relate to others in a way that is compassionate and caring, even if we have not experienced exactly what they are going through.
Teaching empathy to all children, especially those with problem behaviors, is a critical component of social and emotional development. Empathy is associated with higher levels of personal satisfaction, as well as long term positive outcomes in life. A lack of empathy is often associated with rule- and norm-violating behavior. It should be noted that it is just as important for children to show empathy as it is for them to receive it; students who experience empathy are better able to establish a repertoire of pro-social behaviors, conflict resolution skills, and academic competence.
Many, though not all, children have the intrinsic tendency to be empathetic. While the foundations of empathy are actually neurobiological, empathy can be fostered and reinforced through positive interactions and relationships with others, especially adults in caregiving roles. One of the most effective ways adults can cultivate empathy in children is through role modeling. Numerous opportunities exist for modeling empathy on a daily basis. Being an active listener as a child tells a story, helping a child identify his/her feelings, or asking a significant other how their day at work was are examples that show children you are interested in the perspective and feelings of others. Most children are naturally, and quite normally, a bit self-centered. Adults can play an active role in helping children develop a much broader perception of others in their world. This can be accomplished by guiding children through the process of relating to other’s experiences. You can do this through discussion starters such as, “How do you think they feel right now? What can you do to help? How can you show concern?”
At the Windsor Academy and Windsor Prep High School, empathy is taught, recognized and reinforced each and every day. Often, I am touched by demonstrations of empathy I observe among our students. Despite the adversity they face and their own personal struggles, many of them are able to see outside of themselves for a moment. It could be as simple as stopping to ask a peer who has fallen on the basketball court, “Are you ok?” as they reach out a hand to pick them up. When I come in to work with a sniffle, there is always a child who will tell me they hope I feel better soon. There is the 11 year old boy who had the option to choose something for himself at our Holiday Gift Auction, but instead chose to go home with the Hello Kitty Boom Box for his little sister. Windsor Academy and Windsor Prep High School provide numerous opportunities for students to get a sense of how good empathy feels. Our “Pennies for Cancer Patients” drive is underway and the students are very enthusiastic about reaching their goal for the American Cancer Society. Windsor Academy students are teamed with Windsor Prep High School students and the Homeless Bus Inc. Over 250 sandwiches and self-care items will be distributed to homeless individuals in Paterson and Manhattan on March 29, all handmade and packed in brown bags decorated in crayon by our students. Even our youngest have participated in making “Caring Cards” for those who will receive this care package.
Windsor Academy and Windsor Prep High School are committed to the development of the child who will be socially and emotionally attuned to their world. Empathy is the cornerstone of caring individuals and caring communities. It is what allows us to foster the compassion that could lead to a kinder, gentler world for our children to grow up in. It helps us believe in the intrinsic good of others. As one of our six year old students so articulately wrote in her “Caring Card,”
“Smile. Have hope. Because I care.”
For more information about how Windsor Academy and Windsor Prep are committed to the development of the whole child, visit, www.thewindsorschools.com.