As children grow, they are learning to accept and appreciate one another’s differences. These differences range from experiences, like one’s upbringing, to one’s personality or physical characteristics.
As children discover these kinds of differences, empathy
is a vital skill for them to develop so that they can treat others fairly and kindly. This developing skill is more evident during the preschool years, as children are still maturing socially and emotionally. Children gain skills in perspective over time, but the roots of empathy are built in infancy and toddlerhood
. This means we have the responsibility as early childhood educators to model and teach empathy values to the young children in our care.
Here are 3 ways you can begin to instill a sense of empathy in your students:
1. Support & Demonstrate Encouraging Words and Actions
A large component of developing empathy in the classroom is creating a safe place for students. By communicating your expectations on treating people with kindness and respect, you can foster an environment where diversity and inclusion are considered the norm.
A safe and supportive environment can be built through positive words and actions. As the teacher, you can lead by example to your students by acting respectfully and speaking to others in a kind way. You can encourage students to express positive words and actions to each other.
✨Inspiring Idea! The next time your students do a pair activity, try this out.
Go around the room to each station and ask each student what they liked about working with their partner and/or what they learned about each other through the process. Foster conversations that are positive, eye-opening, and inspiring between students.
2. Encourage Sharing at Playtime
Sharing during playtime can sometimes be difficult for children. But moments where children are learning to share are prime opportunities to teach them about empathy, equity, and inclusion.
Sharing teaches children about compromise and fairness. They learn how to include others by playing cooperatively. They begin to think about how it feels to be in another person’s shoes - empathy.
Have you ever instructed a child to share, without explaining the importance behind it?
✨Inspiring Idea! Try these things to improve students’ sharing skills:
Point out good sharing in others
Give a child plenty of praise and attention for sharing
Have children play games that involve sharing and taking turns
3. Show Unconditional Acceptance
Showing interest in your students as a teacher can go a long way. As every student you teach will come from a different background, get to know them and where they come from. Build relationships
with each student, grounded in curiosity, respect, and empathy. By developing relationships in this way, students will feel accepted and will be able to embrace the differences that make them special. They will also mimic that curiosity and respect with their peers, laying the groundwork for empathy to develop.
In this worksheet, children will write (or draw) lists of things they like about themselves, their teacher, and two friends of their choosing. Once they complete the worksheet, have each child share their worksheets with the class. It will foster a sense of belonging within the classroom for each and every child.