In Top Tips for Teaching Kids About Empathy, we shared some basic tips for teaching empathy. To really raise empathetic kids though, they need a lot of practice seeing the world in different ways. (This is in no way an attempt to water down God’s Truths, rather to understand relationship dynamics caused by different points of view.) Fortunately, there are a lot of fun things you can do to help your kids begin to develop an empathetic heart.
Here are a few of my favorites.
- Walking in Their Shoes – Show your kids different kinds of shoes. Have them discuss how they imagine the person wearing those shoes experiences life. What happens during their day? What problems do they experience? What brings them joy? Encourage your kids to seek to understand others and not just make an assumption based on little if any actual knowledge.
- A Day in the Life – Have your kids complete the “Day in the Life” worksheet with what they can learn from research and/or their perceptions about someone they don’t know very well. Perhaps it is someone they believe is very different from them. Encourage them to determine if their conclusions were accurate by asking the person respectful questions.
- Anchor Chart – Although anchor charts are generally used in school, they can also work at home. Take one very large sheet of paper or have each child create their own. Have your kids place pictures and/or words describing life and faith for those they don’t know very well. Words can be based on research and/or perceptions. Have your kids adjust their charts as needed as they get to know people better. Discuss the original ideas and the changes made.
- Could I Do It? – Give your kids the average weekly or monthly “income” of the people they will serve. Have them use ads to attempt to find housing, food, etc. on their “budget”. How hard is it to meet essential needs? Take your kids to the market. Have them buy enough food to feed their “family” nutritiously on their “budget”. Food purchased can be donated to those in need. Or have your kids try to carry an average water container or participate in an activity that makes daily life challenging for those they serve.
- A Day Without – Have your kids go a day without a felt need of the people they are about to serve. What happens when they have to go without shoes, coats, food or some other felt need for a day? What if they had to go without for a week, a month, or a year? How would they feel compared to their current life where they possess the item(s) every day? What new problems would they have? How would it impact their faith?
- Empathy Building Books – Have your kids read and discuss books written by someone who lived in/with the same circumstances as those they serve or who seem to have a very different live from theirs. Have them discover how life is similar or different from theirs.
- Memento Boxes – Create real or realistic memento boxes for some of the various people your kids will serve or that you know. Have your kids create personal memento boxes. Discuss how the boxes are similar and/or different. What do the boxes reveal about circumstances, emotions, and faith?
- Through My Eyes – Have your kids create a piece of art reflecting how they believe the people they are about to serve see their lives. After service, have your kids create a second piece of art reflecting new information they learned while serving.
- Immersion Experiences – Consider setting up an immersion experience for your kids. Dialog in the Dark is an excellent example of a brief immersion in the world of the blind. Other opportunities for immersion experiences can be found around the country.
- What Will We Eat? – Serve your kids a typical meal eaten by those who live in a different country or area of your own country. Discuss what they think they have learned just from eating the meal. Focus on similarities as well as differences. Encourage them to seek information that changes or adds to what they thought they knew.
These activities take extra time and effort, but your kids will be more likely to learn empathy from them than from a lecture. Plus you will create some great family memories in the process. So have some fun and start teaching your kids about empathy!