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Inclusion Column

Empathy: a key factor for inclusion

By: Daniela Carrillo and Blanca Livas

ASFM serves a diverse population of students from different backgrounds and learning profiles. Being an inclusive community is essential to make every student feel accepted, valued and loved. In order to continue growing as an inclusive school, it is important to help our children develop and increase their empathy levels. According to McKee (2016), empathy is the ability to perceive and understand others’ emotions, needs, and thoughts. Vidal Schmill (2018) builds upon this by adding that empathy requires a positive response to that understanding.

By nature, human beings are born egocentric. However, there is a part in the brain called the right supramarginal gyrus that helps us develop empathy and compassion for others (Silani, Lamm, Ruff & Singer in Bergland 2013). When children’s basic needs are met, they are ready to learn how to be empathetic, caring and inclusive. As we mentioned previously, empathy not only means being aware of others’ feelings, it also means being conscious of how your words and actions affect the feelings of others. This ability helps a person understand that we’re all different and need different things, which is a fundamental aspect for inclusion.

Empathy can help us to become more inclusive by thinking about other people’s feelings and needs. However, inclusion is not only perceiving and understanding how people feel, it also requires that we accept and value each person as they are. Inclusion is empowerment for everyone, giving value and respect for the different talents, beliefs, backgrounds and ways of living of each person (Ferris State University, 2018). By teaching kids how to be empathetic with others, we are helping them to understand that everyone is fighting their own battles and therefore accept, respect and value our differences.

How can we develop empathy?
Parents and teachers are the primary role models for children. If we want to help our kids develop empathy, we have to begin with ourselves. Gassam (2018) suggests there are four tactics to increase our empathy for others. The first one is to listen. When we listen to other people’s experiences in life, we are able to see things from a different perspective and increase our levels of empathy. The second one is to slow down and avoid multitasking in order to really listen to others and be mindful of their feelings. The third one is to be curious, to become interested in others’ lives. Asking questions is a way to make a person feel valued. The last one is to volunteer in community service activities. Helping to make a difference in the community can help to increase a person’s empathy levels.

On the other hand, there are some strategies that adults can use to help kids develop empathy. Last month, Vidal Schmill (2018) gave a conference for the Eagle Parent University where he recommended some strategies to parents to help their children develop this ability:

  • Praise your child when he or she demonstrates empathy.
  • Show good manners and caring for others at home.
  • Listen to your child and teach them to avoid interrupting others when they’re talking.
  • Visit a family member or friend that is sick or going through a difficult situation and reflect on it.
  • Participate in solidarity activities at home and school.
  • Caring for all living things.
  • Participating on community service activities.
  • Having quality time with your family.

January is a month for new beginnings, resolutions and goal setting. Let us take the time to choose and implement specific strategies to encourage our children to develop empathy. Doing this, will develop an inclusive mindset and caring hearts in our children. Let’s remember that what we teach them now will guide them to become good citizens and build a better world.

References:
Bergland, C. (2013). The Neuroscience of Empathy. Psychology Today. Revised from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athlet...

Ferris State University. (2018). Diversity and Inclusion Definitions. Revised from: https://www.ferris.edu/htmls/administration/president/diversityoffice/definitions.htm

Gassam, J. (2018). Empathy: The Key To a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace. Revised from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2018/09/25/empathy-the-key-to-a-diverse-and-inclusive-workplace/

McKee, A. (2016). If You Can’t Empathize with Your Employees, You’d Better Learn To. Revised from: https://hbr.org/2016/11/if-you-cant-empathize-with-your-employees-youd-better-learn-to

Schmill, V. (2018, November). Developing Empathy in a Competitive Culture. Monterrey, Mexico.