Maria Dismondy of Be the Difference has started a series of monthly linky parties called Make a Difference Monthly. I wanted to go back and start at the beginning, so April’s featured character trait was empathy. Unfortunately empathy isn’t something we’re born with, but it’s a crucial trait when we’re teaching students how to interact with others.
I think the key with empathy is for students to recognize how they would feel in a variety of situations in order to understand how others might feel too. So many children come into our classrooms with such limited life experiences that it’s hard for them to relate to unique situations. If you’ve never been part of a divorced family, it would be hard for you to relate to another student whose family is transitioning. How do we teach students to stop and think about how their actions and responses could make the situation better or worse?
The discussion of empathy reminded me of a guest speaker we listened to earlier this year. She was talking to the students about abuse and bullying. She help up a piece of paper that represented a child’s feelings. Each time the child’s feelings were hurt, she tore off a small piece of the paper. Eventually, the paper was in pieces on the floor. Watching my students’ faces as she tore the paper was priceless because I could see the lesson sinking in. Then our speaker asked students if the paper could be put back together again. The ultimate answer was sort of. We could pick up the pieces and tape them back together, and sure taping it back together helped make us feel better, but the damage didn’t disappear.
I honestly think the key for empathy with out students is stopping the cycle before the tearing starts. The “Golden Rule” isn’t always taught at home anymore, and the lines between right and wrong often seem to change depending on which side you’re on. We have to teach our students that it isn’t okay to do things to others that wouldn’t feel good when done to ourselves. We also have to teach them to recognize when “playing” is actually hurting feelings, even if they are just joking.
I like reading Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days when we talk about our feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to use the colors to discuss feelings. I also point out that different colors mean different things to each of us, just like we can have different feelings in the same situations. For example, I think of red as angry but some students love the color red because it reminds them of flowers. We learn that we can’t always assume how the other person is feeling.
I also like using What Are You So Grumpy About? because the book’s silliness catches my students’ attention, but also leads to a discussion about the things that make us grumpy and what we can do about it. Sometimes we just need a little support.
Click on over to see all of the posts about empathy and join May’s discussion of Respect. I’d love to hear your ideas!