Empathy Within Us

Elisabeth

I have a (gorgeous/beautiful/smart/funny/amazing) 12 week old baby girl. She is awesome.  It is hard being back at work while she is so young, but easier knowing she gets to stay home with her dog and her dad. Most days, she comes and visits me at school and on those days, she will sometimes still be in the classroom when my kids come back from one of their single subject classes, before they go out to recess.

It is fascinating to watch the way they interact with her.

  • They are so loving and gentle and kind – even (especially!) the boys.
  • They look for nice things to say about her: complimenting her smile, her strength when she grips their fingers, her awesome hair, her clothes, how awake she is, how curious she is, how cute she is when she is sleeping – or awake – …pretty much anything.
  • They want her to be comfortable – they try not to crowd her, they want to hold her or tuck her blanket around her or get her a toy.
  • Their sole purpose in those few minutes is to make a connection with her.

After seeing this happen a couple of times, I decided to bring it up to the kids – my observations.  I told them what I had seen (the list above) and then I asked them to think about not when they first met Elisabeth, but when they first met each other.  Did they treat each other the same way they were treating Elisabeth: with the sole purpose of making a connection?

It was interesting and a little sad to hear their reaction.  The overall consensus was that she was a little baby and would be cute and nice no matter what they did (within reason) whereas they didn’t know when they met each other if they would be kind to each other or if the other person would make fun of them or ignore them or tease them.

This sentiment is mirrored by my hero Auggie, from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  When thinking about meeting new people, Auggie says:

The thing is, when I was little I never minded meeting new kids because all the kids I met were really little, too. What’s cool about really little kids is that they don’t say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings.  But they don’t actually know what they’re saying.  Big kids, though: they know what they’re saying. And that is definitely not fun for me.

-Auggie

Having Elisabeth at school reminded me of a program our friend Kate and her baby Eli had participated in at a school in Canada: Roots of Empathy.  The premise of this program is to help children become more empathetic by engaging them in a series of ‘lessons’ with a parent and child in which they observe the interaction between the two, the way needs are met and communicated, and how the bonds are created. For more information on this program, take a look at the slideshow of photos from Kate and Eli’s year or read this article on her experience.

Roots of Empath

I am fascinated by how my kids react to my baby.  And even more intrigued when I shine a mirror back to them of their behaviors and then sit back and observe their reaction.  How do kids lose this innocence and how can we help them keep it even a little bit longer?

About Sonya terBorg

I have been teaching for 20 years in 7 countries, located in 4 continents. I am passionate about finding a significant opportunity to make a positive change wherever I am working. I enjoy learning more about the challenges and triumphs in education and believe in sharing ideas in order to deepen understanding. I look forward to sharing ideas and learning from you.
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3 Responses to Empathy Within Us

  1. This is a wonderfulpost, and thanks for sharing.

    As soon as my son was born (well about 4 months after) I took him to meet my students. From that moment on, each one of my classes has had a close relationship with my son. I talk about him, I bring him in for experiments and play, I meet students outside school so he can get to know them, I have pictures of him hanging everywhere…. etc.

    It has always been moving to have my students connect with my child. It brings me closer to them, and them closer to me. They see me as a parent, and a teacher, and I get to see them as students and just plain kids.

    Like

  2. Marina says:

    I love that you had the students reflect on and compare how they treated Elisabeth and how they treated each other. They are so insightful. I think we, as teachers, can also think about how we treat each other and how we treat our students. Making connections with each other takes trust and ‘putting ourselves out there.’ But isn’t it great when it happens?!
    Thanks for a thoughtful and important post.

    Like

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