This week was a very special week for BISC-LP; we launched our 9th Goal Squad character, M. Pathy, who will be helping educate and promote the important value of EMPATHY.
I remember asking my mum, when I was a child, what the difference was between sympathy and empathy. (And was actually a question I was asked this week when I was in the Year 4 Wallabies class.) I distinctly remember thinking that EMPATHY seemed deeper and more heartfelt than sympathy. My mum would often say the Native American proverb,
Do not judge your neighbor until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. (Native American Cheyenne Proverb)
I have since read that this saying comes from a poem that was written in 1895 by Mary T. Lathrap, titled ‘Judge Softly’. EMPATHY is exactly that: removing judgement and instead seeking understanding. We don’t know an individual’s journey and we must remember that.
My gran had this very ornament, above, that had this written on it, and I can still see it in my mind, hung up by her stairs; it was clearly a very valued statement in the heart of my gran and subsequently, my mum. Both my gran and mum displayed heartfelt and genuine examples and acts of empathy when I was growing up, and my mum still does now. It is the one value that humans can possess that can make the world of difference to each, and every one of us.
Since I have become a mum myself, I have read articles and followed accounts on social media who help parents parent! There is a lot to read and a lot that just ‘doesn’t fit’ with your own child, but one piece of advice that I have held close in my ‘parent toolkit’ is the act and notion of EMPATHY. Not only has this been instilled in me by my mum and gran, but Instagram parenting accounts echo this skill that was written about many, many years ago. A simple skill and an easy ‘go to’, and most useful when used in that moment when your child is deeply upset: EMPATHY. A simple statement and acknowledgment of how they are feeling, in THAT moment when it sounds like their world has just caved in, when you can’t hear anything but their cries and upset, an act of EMPATHY is like magic dust that can calm, quiet and connect. Validating their feeling through EMPATHY is not only a good trick; it is compassion and kindness in action.
“I can see you are upset that we had to stop playing. It must be hard to stop playing when you were having so much fun.”
And like magic, those screams or outbursts dissipate and that all important connection of ‘this person knows how I am feeling when I haven’t got the words to say how I feel. This person knows it’s hard for me right now’ is present, and comfort and peace can set in.
A few years ago, as a staff at BISC-LP, we watched Brené Brown clip of what EMPATHY is and what it isn’t. This was in relation to our Values curriculum. In that year, we were focusing on the ability to recognize and label feelings beyond just using ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ and to observe how to notice these feelings in other people. The Power of Empathy - Bing video. It is a powerful video that shows the power of EMPATHY and how we can all be empathetic and what it can lead to.
Although EMPATHY seems to come naturally to some people and not so easily to others, it is something that can be nurtured and taught. However, in order to be truly present in a person’s skillset and being, it must be practiced and exercised.
Here are some suggestions that can develop EMPATHY in our children, and even a good reminder for any adults who would like to be more EMPATHETIC.
Read books together. Discuss how characters may be feeling and why. Ask how they might feel if they were in that situation.
Empathize with them in the moment that matters. That meltdown moment when they need someone to understand. Validate their feelings.
Read stories about feelings to help them hear the language. Children’s books will have visual facial and body cues in the pictures that will help children learn when they can empathize with others.
Role Model empathetic acts and kindness. Explain and narrate your actions. Include children in these actions and encourage them to think of these themselves.
Pretend Play with dolls and cuddly toys and narrate how they are feeling in play situations. Ask how we can help the toys feel safe and calm.
Talk about others’ feelings when watching movies or with people in the family. Explain how and why these feelings are present and how we can help support them.
Sorry not sorry! Instead of forcing apologies, focus on the feelings of the other child and their actions. This helps a child make connections between the action and the reaction.
EMPATHY is a complex skill and takes time to be deeply-rooted in the core of a person’s skillset and natural characteristics. Even though it is not an easy skill to master, it is important that we make it a conscious focus to be more empathetic to situations and to people. EMPATHY is the key to a world of deeper understanding and, therefore, deeper connections filled with kindness and compassion.
As we welcome M. Pathy into our Goal Squad and our hearts, we hope that they teach and model the fact that EMPATHY plays a vital role in the hearts and minds of us all but especially young people, their futures and subsequently - society's future.