“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler. It is very rightly said by John Steinbeck “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. In this fast-pacing world, people hardly find time for one another or themselves. The digital world has not only changed the ways of communication but also the ways of caring and expressing compassion. To raise happy young children in this 21st century, it becomes inevitable to instill empathy and understanding in them.
Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development suggests that children move through four different stages of learning. His theory focuses not only on understanding how children acquire knowledge but also on understanding the nature of intelligence. In the second stage of cognitive development, the Pre-Operational Stage, as coined by Piaget, one of the major characteristics of the child is that it tends to be egocentric and struggles to see things from the perspective of others. At the pre-operational stage of 2 to 7 years, children just enter school and have a home away from home. These young children are naturally inclined to think about themselves and their own needs. They hardly consider the needs, demands, or aspirations of others. Educators, thus have to shoulder the responsibility of inculcating awareness of the diversity in their classroom as well as create an empathetic environment for their apt growth.
Empathy is an important life skill that develops the emotional bonding of the child with the immediate and extended surroundings and relations. Children must develop this important skill and learn to be empathetic so that they value others’ feelings, needs, and achievements. To coexist on this life-sustaining planet EARTH, it is important to understand how other human beings, animals, birds, and creatures feel. What are the consequences of our actions on others, and why someone must be experiencing a particular feeling at a specific time, is something children must necessarily be aware of. As Artificial intelligence and Robotics are on a march to rule the world, it is the understanding and empathy of humans that can play a crucial role to keep the real emotional world alive.
Young children feel safe in an empathetic environment. It makes them confidently collaborate with their peers making them confident learners. Empathy helps build stronger relationships and fosters acceptance and tolerance amongst young children. This instills social harmony along with a win-win situation for all. Children practicing empathy and understanding are emotionally intelligent and mentally healthy.
In the current era, nuclear families and working parents have changed the way children grow up. The mental health of an individual is largely based on the experiences and environment that he/she receives during his/ her childhood. An emotionally and spiritually awakened individual scales higher in mental health. Hence it is inevitable for young minds to develop understanding and empathy to live in a healthy state of mind. This eventually ensures greater success at personal and professional levels, more happiness, and contentment. Children raised with the skills of understanding and empathy tend to achieve more success in leadership positions. They can deal with conflict in a better way and thus have more satisfying relationships and lower levels of stress.
In diverse classrooms of the 21st century, empathy and understanding play a crucial role. Each child sets a humble eye on the other leading to the holistic development of all. Fostering empathy is a building block to regulate a child’s emotions which helps him survive in diverse classrooms while strengthening the ability to adapt to the ever-changing world. Children learn to respect each other’s appearance, emotions, and needs. Increased globalization has made our classrooms more and more diverse, making empathy a crucial component of each educator’s plate. In a diverse classroom empathy and understanding build a culture and community.
It helps children build strong friendships and peer relationships of trust. These little gestures of compassion and community building extend outside the walls of the classroom toward building a better global community. A dynamic leader must understand the people and empathize with them. Hence educators must make sure that students learn to develop empathy toward and understanding of the people around them. This will equip students to value others’ plight and eventually result in creating successful leaders of tomorrow.
Owing to the immense potential of building empathy in students, curriculums that incorporate empathy and understanding are the need of the hour. Instilling these crucial values doesn’t require high-end planning but needs an intricately woven academic learning environment that fosters empathy and understanding with simple acts of kindness and tolerance. To start with young children in diverse classrooms, educators must begin with the most effective tool i.e. storytelling. Educators must make use of varied props of animals, birds, and humans to make children value other living creatures. An effective way to develop empathy in classrooms is puppet shows. Children carry these experiences for a lifetime.
Schools can easily set up pot luck lunch afternoons to sensitize children about the different types and kinds of food and culture of their classmates in a diverse classroom. community outreach events such as donation drives can be arranged by schools to develop a sense of giving back to society in the minds of young children. This can include grain donations, winter wear donation, stationery, and school kit donation are a few to list out. unique day celebrations like senior citizens day, labour day, army day, doctors day, and pet day develop a sense of respect and compassion towards these community helpers and animals in the minds of young children. Teaching emotions through play and games is a novel way that would help educators incorporate these important life skills into a child’s mindset.
Practicing empathy in diverse classrooms builds strong bonding between students and thus leads to better communication skills in them. Children become less aggressive and achieve higher academic grades. Empathy speaks to us in those silent moments, away from our wounded ego and our wondering heart, in those empty spaces where questions run riot like lost and rejected soldiers… it tells us that each soul is worthy, valued, loved, and honored and we only ever need to face our own shadows, our own pain… and to be our own mirror. – Christine Evangelou.
Author – Dr. Bhumiba Rajdeepsinh Gohil, Principal, Amarjyoti Saraswati Vidhyalaya, Gujarat