Have you ever wished that you could have an amazing superpower like the heroes we see in books, comics and movies? While we may never be able to fly or shoot lasers from our eyes, there IS one superpower that everyone can learn… the power of empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings, situation or motives. This essential skill helps us to connect with others in the world around us, and forms the basis of successful communications and interactions throughout our lives. It really is a tremendous superpower.
However, empathy is not a power we are born with, it needs to be learned and developed. Just like young superheroes would have needed support to develop their various superpowers, it is important that the grownups in children’s lives give them the opportunities and tools they need to become empathy superheroes.
In addition to being open and honest with children about our own feelings and experiences, one brilliant empathy-boosting tool we all have access to (whether in our homes, schools or libraries) are books. We are living in a golden age of children’s publishing, with high-quality children’s books available covering a huge range of characters, stories and subjects. Sharing these books with children gives them the opportunity to step inside different characters’ shoes and explore their feelings and situations from the safety and security of their own homes.
On Thursday 10th June it is Empathy Day 2021, and this year’s theme is walking in someone else’s shoes. So, when you share a book with a child this Empathy Day, why not try these three simple exercises to put a little more ZAP! into their empathy superpower?
1. Pause the story and take the time to discuss the emotions of the characters.
These discussions not only boost children’s empathy, but also help them learn the vocabulary they need to identify and communicate their own feelings to others. Try asking open questions, rather than closed ones, as these allow more scope for children to explore. One well-chosen book can inspire plenty of discussion.
2. Encourage children to look at the expressions and body language of characters in the illustrations.
Young children are still learning how to read and understand non-verbal expressions and body language. Picture books with their engaging colourful art are the perfect place for them to practice this skill. Try asking them to tell the story from the pictures, focussing on how the illustrations show the characters’ feelings and situation changing. Wordless picture books are excellent for this exercise, particularly if you’re working with slightly older children who will find it difficult not to simply read the text in normal picture books.
3. Help your favourite character pack for their holiday.
Ask your child to choose their favourite character and put themselves into that character's shoes to help them get ready to go on holiday. Where would that character choose to go on their holiday? What would they pack? What would they keep with them at all times? Who would they send postcards to? Is there anything they would be particularly excited to do on their holiday? Is there anything they would be scared or worried about? And why?
For older children, this activity can be expanded to writing a story about their chosen character’s experiences on holiday.
For lots of other fun and inspiring activities to try this Empathy Day 2021, check out the Family Activities pack created by Empathy Lab .