Teaching empathy to our children

Having two children on my own,  I often wonder what the future is going to look like when they are adults.  Environmental crises, artificial intelligence spinning out of control and increasing social inequality are few worries on my mind. It maybe not an obvious link, but one of the skills I want to give my children is to teach them empathy.

Empathy is more than just the ability to understand another person’s feelings or experiences from their perspective. It is also an ability to share your own feelings as well as externalize empathy in the form of action, i.e., helping others in some way (see more at Daniel Goleman’s work).

Practising empathy is important in building and maintaining strong social bonds and relationships, which is key to individual mental health and balanced society.

Practically, how we can teach our children to be more empathetic? The three starting points would be

(1) when reading books or watching movies, discuss the feeling people have;

(2) help children discover what they have in common with other people;

(3) discuss potential steps of action to help other people in need or distress..

We hosted Tamsin Ogilvie last Friday at the club talking with children about refugee crises and teaching empathy through illustration. Tamsin has suggested some wonderful resources to go through with the children at home (as always, we would recommend watching/reading them yourself first, to make sure they are suitable for your family):

The Journey

The illustrations are very appealing and the tone, simple and gentle yet some of the imagery, such a black ink taking over the page is very powerful invocation of war. This book is helpful in opening up discussions about why families are forced to flee.

Kunkush The true story of a refugee cat.

Through the story of a pet cat’s adventures, challenges facing migrating families is brought into focus. 

The Arrival

The most beautiful example of pictures communicating universally across cultures. A modern classic that speaks to both children and adults. It tells the story of father leaving his family to seek a better life in a new land, without being able to speak the language.

When Hitler stole pink rabbit

While this book describes the experiences of a brother and sister feeling Hilter’s Germany, it is still one of the best chapter books I have read that really awakens the reader to the refugee experience. I read this book aloud to both my children at the same time, when they were around 6 and 9. They both found it hilarious and moving, it is a family classic.

The story of Ivine and pillow - Unicef

This is a beautifully illustrated short animation. It tries to step lightly through Ivine’s experiences as a refugee, but it has an emotional resonance. It will help build empathy for the refugee experience but I would recommend parents watching it first, before showing it to younger children.

Life in a Syrian refugee camp - BBC newsbeat

A short documentary showing life in one refugee camp in Lebanon. It gives some context to the refugee experience in real life.

Refugees and Migrants (Children in Our World)

This beautifully illustrated non-fiction book is the next on the list to read to my children. Explaining the migrant experience thoughtfully for ages 6 to 10. 

I hope you find these materials useful. Please have a look at our latest newsletter for more upcoming event here.