Cultivating Empathy

When I (Sarah) read this great blog post about the development of empathy in children I knew I needed to share it with the Gan community. The post talks about the origins of the word “empathy” and how even very young babies are hard-wired with some amount of instinctual empathy. But this fledgling instinct needs to be nurtured and developed, just like any other skill, for children to grow into children and then adults who are truly empathetic. At the Gan, we start from the earliest ages to help children both name and own their own feelings. A teacher might coach a young child still learning this vocabulary by saying, “Did it make you sad when he took your block? Tell him, 'It made me sad when you took my block. Please don’t take my toys.'" By giving children the words to understand their own feelings, they begin to notice and be able to name those same feelings in other children. This is a critical step in the development of empathy. Parents can help children grow in this way as well, by using a rich vocabulary of feelings and emotions – from happy to sad, from frustrated to angry to content. Name your emotions for your child, and name your child's emotions for them as well. It not only validates their feelings, it helps them grow into the empathetic adults we hope they will be!