Teaching empathy

In our grade chasing environment, students in Singapore grow up with the pressure to do well academically. This has given the nation state much success in test scores as compared to the rest of the world. In 2015, Singapore emerged the top in mathematics and science scores among 76 countries, being placed ahead of Hong Kong and South Korea who were placed second and third respectively. However, having intelligence in test taking does not necessarily mean success in life.

Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, it makes the world a better place

— Daniel Pink

Instead, perhaps something that is more neglected is the development of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability for an individual to recognize and manage his own emotions and that of other people. Those with higher emotional intelligence find it easier to form and maintain interpersonal relationships. At the core of emotional intelligence is an attribute that this article will be talking about- empathy.

Empathy

Empathy is simply the awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. More importantly, it is understanding someone else’s feelings as though we are experiencing them ourselves. Empathy can often be confused with sympathy. Empathy actually goes far beyond sympathy which can be considered as ‘feeling for’ someone. Empathy is instead ‘feeling with’ that person through your imagination.

Psychologists have identified 3 types of empathy:

·       Cognitive empathy is understanding someone’s thoughts and emotions in a rational sense, rather than emotionally.

·       Emotional empathy is ‘catching’ someone else’s feelings and feeling them as your own.

·       Compassionate empathy is understanding someone and taking appropriate actions to help him or her.

Importance of Empathy

Research have suggested that those who can empathize with others enjoy better relationships with others. The importance of these skills for personal, relationship and work success has becoming increasingly recognize. Being able to build connections with others have been touted as a catalyst for success. This is because, people like to do business with those whom they can trust and like. In addition, having empathy would reduce any unnecessary conflicts and is an important aspect for convincing others to listen to your point of view.

Fortunately, despite some being to naturally empathize with others, empathy is a skill that can be developed, as with many other interpersonal skills.

How it can be taught to students

When we instinctively tell children to ‘think about how what they did made another person feel’, we are training them in empathy and teaching them to recognize the importance of taking another person’s feelings into consideration. Here are some ways a parent can inculcate empathy into their children:

1.     Words to Emotions

Describing emotions with words can be trickier than it sounds

Describing emotions with words can be trickier than it sounds. The English vocabulary is so wide that there are many words to describe various degrees of happiness, fear, sadness and excitement. By encouraging children to find the right words to express their feelings is a good way for them to understanding someone else’s as they are able to connect those words with emotions. Children watch parents all the time. You can model the behavior you want your children to emulate by sharing your feelings and thoughts with them. This will not only encourage your children to empathize with you, but also reduce any miscommunication or misunderstandings that you may have with your child.

2.     Reward & Discipline

Rewarding children’s behavior can be a method to encourage empathy. Pay attention to when they are showcasing signs of empathy- concern about others, helping another and so on. Recognition and affirmation may not seem like something special, but it can go a long way in inculcating empathy into children.

Making sure that children understand how people are affected in problems and solutions can also help them to develop empathy. Getting them to consider how their aggrieved sibling must be feeling when they got hurt and showing how the feelings of the perpetuator can lead to such consequences could be a way to include empathy in discipline.

I shall leave you with a quote by Daniel H. Pink- ‘Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, it makes the world a better place.’

What do you think? Leave a comment