Empathy for Happier Children (and Adults)

  • Early Learning Center
Empathy for Happier Children (and Adults)
Roberto Baldeschi-Balleani, Pre-kindergarten Head Teacher

Empathy—putting oneself in the shoes of another—is the ability that allows us to really get in touch with other people. The good news is that this important ability can be developed from an early age. In the Early Learning Center at Avenues, nursery and pre-K teachers are working with children to help them get in touch with their feelings and the feelings of others. We often ask children, “How does that make you feel?” and, “How would you feel if…?” In this way, we focus on how the child feels during an activity or game, regardless of the end result, so they can begin to recognize and express their emotions. Empathy begins by understanding our own emotions, and ends up leading to a better understanding of others. Recognizing and understanding our feelings at a young age can create an inner compass that helps to guide our behaviors. Teachers model language for the children so they can more accurately express how they feel. In the Orange/Chengse pre-K Lions and Tigers class, we start to explore feelings in both Chinese and English starting at the beginning of the year. 

Using books to learn about feelings.
Using books to learn about feelings. 
Identifying different feelings.
Identifying different feelings. 

Nowadays, empathy is considered a key tool for children and adults to find happiness. For example, schools in Denmark (the country with some of the happiest people in the world according to the World Happiness Report) have started implementing Klassens tid ("class time"), once a week, where students learn to recognize and share their emotions, put themselves in the shoes of others and open up to feelings without judgment.

Investing in empathy increases wellbeing.
Investing in empathy increases wellbeing. 

Learning to dedicate a space in which to empathize can be considered an investment in wellbeing and serenity, which reduces narcissism and bullying. At school, we find opportunities to incorporate role-playing in the classroom, allowing children to get into the shoes of others. We purposefully use both real and pretend scenarios to find out how children are feeling or would feel. We also share our own feelings, and children find comfort discovering that others—including their teachers—have the same experiences. 

Recognizing and understanding our feelings at a young age can create an inner compass that helps to guide our behaviors.
Understanding our feelings at a young age can create an inner compass.

 This leads not only to an understanding of others, but is also an exercise in not labeling each other negatively and in creating a space of deep sharing. We create a "kind of sacred space," as explained by the author Brené Brown in this wonderful animated video.

  • Early Learning Center
  • Kindergarten
  • Nursery
  • Pre-Kindergarten
  • Social-emotional Learning
  • Wellness