Pram Jam with Beth – Empathy

Welcome back to the blog for 2019 – I hope that everyone has had a wonderful, restful and recharging Christmas and New Year with your beautiful families. I took the opportunity for a full rearranging of our home (not quite in KonMari style, but the principles certainly helped!) and spent time reflecting on the successes and failures of 2018. Well, failures may not be the best term. Disappointments could be better. Our family Christmas was quite low-key and very peaceful, and we’re enjoying the break offered by the long summer days before diving back in for another year of learning and growing.

We’ve had a few Scrabble battles over the summer break, I wish I’d come up with this myself… imagine placing that on a triple word score!       Photo credit: EKG Technician Salary

I was going to write my first blog of the year on building resilience in our children, how to help them with big changes and support them when times are tough. But, I changed my mind. I think that the better topic to discuss for this age group is empathy. If we can model kindness and encourage our babies to grow into empathetic adults, I truly believe that this is where the biggest benefit to our society will be found.

Empathy is key in preventing pain in the first place, or supporting friends through their own pain. In my research for this blog, I read a simplified statistic that approximately 99% of Americans are capable of feeling true empathy, and the 1% who can’t is comprised mostly of psychopaths (another source suggested that the 1% also comprises people who are on the autism spectrum, and narcissists).

Empathy at home

I have been fascinated by the readings, as I know that I struggle when my children don’t display empathy or show higher than usual levels of deviousness. I wonder where it all links back to and have read some very compelling information about hormones, genetics and environment – or children’s ability to form attachments to their caregivers. So, to reassure myself, I nurture my children with devotions of time and cuddles, and try to model empathetic responses in our home. My kids see me concerned for friends, distressed about colleagues, worried about family members and inquiring after my partner in a genuine manner. The trickier thing can be maintaining empathetic responses to the children themselves, when they wear me down with their whinging and moaning… But I don’t expect perfection in my interactions with them and I tell myself that it’s healthy for them to see some level of frustration seeping through 😉 I keep reading tips and hints and trying to do better.

Empathy through Fiction

One of the best ways to encourage children to imagine themselves in another set of shoes is through reading a wide range of fiction books – not just all the fairy books, or all the Peppa Pig books, but a varied selection of topics and genres and sources. If your child is hearing about the lives of many different people in their stories every day, they will grow to be curious and compassionate adults with an understanding of how varied our upbringings have been.

Empathy books at Cockburn Libraries

The pink hat / by Andrew Joyner.

This sweet book follows the journey of a pink hat that is swiped out of a knitting basket by a pesky kitten, blown into a tree by a strong wind, and used as a cozy blanket for a new baby, then finally makes its way onto the head of a young girl marching for women’s equality. The story provides many opportunities to reflect with your child on how each character feels when the hat joins and leaves their situation, and how the crowd at the end are joining together in solidarity for the Women’s March. The men, women and children are modelling empathy perfectly!

Cover image for : The pink hat / by Andrew Joyner
Cover image for On my scooter / Dick Bruna.

On my scooter / Dick Bruna.

This classic, simply illustrated book follows a small child on their scooter and is a sweet story of a child’s independence and empathy for others. An oldie, but a goodie!  Dick Bruna also writes and illustrates the Miffy series which are a great early reader option.

Hedgehog needs a hug / Jen Betton.

Hedgehog wakes up needing a hug, but has trouble finding friend who will get so close to his prickles. This one is an adorable book, and Hedgehog displays beautiful empathy for all of his ailing friends. A nice tie-in to Jessica’s Cautionary Tales blog post with Mr Fox as well!

Cover Image for Hedgehog needs a hug / Jen Betton
Cover Image for I want a friend / Anne Booth, illustrated by Amy Proud.

I want a friend / Anne Booth, Amy Proud.

Arthur wants a friend, but his plans to find one tend to go awry – with interesting consequences for his intended pals! Join in Arthur’s hilarious world of pre-school playtime adventures as he learns to navigate life’s first experiences of friendship, sharing, individuality, make-believe, empathy, scientific discovery and the joy of true friendship.

Plant kiss / written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal ; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

One small act of love blooms into something bigger and more dazzling than Little Miss could have ever imagined. This story shares a gorgeous message of how love grows, and is endless, and how generosity comes back to you numerous times over. In board book format, this one can be shared with the youngest members of the family with confidence.

Cover Image for Plant a kiss / written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal ; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

Songs about empathy and emotions

These two songs as well as the good ol’ ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ provide wonderful opportunities to discuss emotions, feelings and sharing how we’re all going with young children. Talking about emotions and how others are feeling goes a huge way towards developing empathy skills in little ones.

So, how do you feel about the empathy levels on display in your household? Do you have a conscious understanding of your own empathy levels? I took the quiz at this link and felt that the tips shared in my results page were very useful, and easy to imagine putting into practice. I especially liked the tip that suggested I should read plenty of fiction books.  That is one thing that I’m always happy to do 😀