Much has been said about how reading helps build vocabularies, surpass learning challenges and improve literacy in kids. But research also suggests a very different skill is key to their long-term happiness and success: empathy.
Why Teach Kids Empathy?
What is empathy, and why is it so important? Volumes have been written on the subject, but in the simplest terms, it’s the ability to recognize and relate to the feelings and perspectives of others.
As for why it’s important, education psychologist Michele Borba wrote in her book, “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, “…the ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity.” Borba also argues that “it is an effective anecdote to bullying, aggression, prejudice, and racism.”
Empathy make us kinder, happier people. But beyond that, it makes us better, more tolerant citizens.
Teaching Empathy With Books
While humans are born hardwired with the capacity for empathy, empathic abilities don’t come naturally from birth—they need to be taught, nurtured and practiced over time.
Being able to understand other perspectives is the essential gateway to empathy, and one powerful way to develop this important skill is through reading. According to professor of education Maria Nikolajeva of Cambridge University, “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practicing empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think.”
A study by Carnegie Mellon University goes even further, showing that when people read fiction, they use the same regions of their brains as when perceiving action and movement in the real world.
Reading is a proven, effective way to nurture your child’s ability to recognize, value, relate to and have compassion for the feelings of others. Here’s how you can use books to help them practice and translate this ability into their day-to-day interactions.
The Role of Parents
Now that we know how vital it is to teach our kids how to empathize with others, here are a few tips on what you can do to make it a life-long part of your child’s skillset:
Pick the Right Books
Look for titles with relatable characters going through scenarios familiar to your child. There’s a wealth of kids’ books written with emotional development in mind. We recommend these five.
Teach Vocabulary for Feelings
Discussing what characters are feeling helps kids identify and share their own emotions. You can ask about characters’ emotional states using simple words. For example: “Goldilocks ate all that porridge. She must’ve been hungry” or “When the bears found out the porridge was gone, they must’ve been really mad.”
Step Into the Character’s Shoes
Ask thoughtful questions challenging your child to relate to characters’ emotions, such as: “What if this happened to you?” “How would you feel in this situation?” or “How do they feel right now?”
Raising caring, kind, resilient kids shapes how they relate and cope with people and situations for life—from handling conflicts in the playground to one day raising empathetic children of their own.
Ready to set your child up for a lifetime of happiness, success and meaningful human connection? Check out these 5 books we recommend for encouraging kindness, inclusion and empathy.