Empathy is an essential social skill for life. It’s the basis of successful relationships at home, teamwork in the office, and it is the core component of a civilized society in which we treat others the way we want to be treated.
But how do you teach kids to see someone else’s perspective? How do you teach them to walk in someone else’s shoes?
Here are some fun activities to teach kids empathy and perspective.
1. Is it a 6 or a 9?
Step 1– For a quick lesson in understanding others’ perspectives, place a page on a table with the number 6 printed on it. (Download a print-ready “6” here)
Step 2– Separate the class into two groups and have each group stand on opposite sides of the table so the number looks like a 6 to one group and a 9 to the other. Ask students on one side of the table what number they see, then ask the other students. Some will say the number is a six, the other’s will say it’s a nine. Next, “turn the table” or the paper, so it faces the opposite direction. Now what number does each group see?
Step 3– Discuss how sometimes people disagree because they don’t see the other person’s perspective. A key element in learning empathy is to understand that people can see the same situation in different ways.
(Thanks to Edutopia for this idea. If you want more info, they have a nice story about a Middle Eastern Legend that led to this lesson. )
2. Focus on facial expressions and body language in stories
Picture books are a great way to teach empathy because children learn to read facial expressions and body language. Try the book “What if?”, a story about a young boy who learns to consider how his actions impact other people. Throughout the book, there are plenty of opportunities to discuss how the characters feel in each situation by reading facial expressions and body language. (or print this empathy lesson plan with step by step instructions).
A great way to bring out empathy is to note the scene in which one boy is pointing at another child and laughing (see images above). In the first image, how is each child feeling? What are the different perspectives of the two children? Next move on to the page when the boy who was pointing is the one being laughed at. Now how does he feel? What does it feel like when the table is turned?
3. Show children this video on good sportsmanship
This video shows a beautiful display of empathy by a youth sports team that just won the world championship in soccer. Despite their glee and success, they are moved with empathy for the other team and put aside their own celebration to offer comfort. It is empathy in action. (Find more videos that teach empathy here.)
What activities or books do you use to teach empathy? We’d love to hear about it.