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Empathy: A pay it forward effect

By Karina César

Empathy is indispensable for a safe and caring environment. We all need to grow in an environment where we feel loved, secure and accepted. Children who feel understood and valued in an empathetic community can stand confidently in the world and accept themselves building their skill of empathy. We have an emotional brain that is wired to be social and for a healthy development of every aspect of our being, we must feel safe in a community where we can have strong personal relationships that show understanding, equality and trust. Bob Sornson asserts: "Empathy is the heart of a great classroom culture." Any community that values and prioritizes empathy is one where its children feel confident and are able to not only reach their own potential, but lift their peers up as well.

Empathy means understanding and caring about another person's feelings and taking action to help. It means standing up for someone, helping to solve a problem, or simply listening to someone that is feeling down. Having empathy and acting on it involves thinking, feeling, and even a physical reaction that our bodies have when we relate to how other people feel.

How can we build this community of Empathy? Encouraging respect is encouraging understanding, which is empathy in action. The foundation of empathy is an awareness of others’ needs, feelings, and thoughts, a well as a strong capacity to accept people, life, and experiences. Children and adults who understand and appreciate the people around them accept the world as it is and are ready to practice empathy with others.

If we start teaching social emotional skills at a very young age, we can experience a pay it forward effect, where one child teaches another child and this leads to a chain reaction. To successfully teach any life skill, we must model and demonstrate it in our daily lives. As role models of our students and our own children, we have to model Empathy and explicitly teach it so children can experience it on a daily basis. We can also expose our children to a variety of literary experiences, guiding discussions related to understanding and sharing character’s emotions. Reflect on students’ actions and emphasize how they can impact others, foster opportunities for students to find similarities amongst each other, start a chain of random acts of kindness or get involved with charity.

Building a community full of empathy takes effort and commitment, but it has tons of benefits. Engage children in empathy promoting understanding, sensitivity, and awareness of those around us. Practicing empathy with our children is a win-win situation. Let’s teach this value to our children and watch as the amazing powers of Empathy transform our ASFM community.