We are raising our children in a world of connectivity. Today, more than ever, we are truly able to step into someone else's life through the Internet. As children begin to investigate the world around them, time and distance no longer impedes their ability to view other's perspectives and share thoughts and ideas. But the Internet is not the only place young people can gain exposure to the plights and hardships of others. They can do it through books too. Books that teach empathy can help children begin to formulate ways to make the world around them better.
Neuroscientists at Emory University tell us that "fiction tricks our brains into thinking we are part of the story". When children begin to relate to the characters and situations in a book, they are able to show identical sensitivity in real life situations.
Check out a few of the many children's books written to teach empathy and acceptance. These titles are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
- First Grade Dropout, (see a review here) by Audrey Vernick discusses embarrassment so great that a young boy decides he can no longer go back to school.
- A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park is recommended for grades 5 and up. (read a review here) This is two stories intertwined into one, alternating between 1985 and 2008, and contrasts the many challenges of two very different young people in the Sudan.
- The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig (review) is a heartwarming story about a boy who feels alone, even in a crowded room. A tribute to friendship, and acceptance, that teaches all to look beyond the surface.
- Wonder (review) by R. J. Palacio is a story of a 10 year old with severe facial deformities who has been home-schooled up until the time he is about to begin the 5th grade,when he begins attending a traditional school for the first time.
- Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes is a novel about a 12-year-old in New Orleans dealing with Hurricane Katrina.
- The Boy on the Wooden Box, is a memoir by Leon Leyson and recounts the atrocities of the holocaust as witnessed by a youngster.
- The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck takes us to the great depression.
- The Can Man, by Laura E. Williams delves into homelessness.
- Rules, by Cynthia Lord illustrates some of the frustrations and conflicts of living with a special needs sibling.
- Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, a beautiful story about living well, despite living with cerebral palsy.
Empathy is a valuable life skill that can be taught. As parents, we need to talk to our children about the ways our feelings influence behavior. Read some of these books together as a family and then discuss the situations that might call for empathy. Ask your child to explain how the book's characters were feeling and thinking to help them view life experiences from someone else's point of view. Take advantage of day-to-day opportunities to solicit sympathetic responses to the needs of others. Set the bar high. Make caring for others a high priority in your family. Encourage discussions about the needs and feelings of those who are the most vulnerable. Spending the time to teach your child empathy will be time well spent.
GAC students learn empathy through serving others locally and abroad. Whether it's a local food drive or building a family a home in Ecuador, our students seek out opportunities to connect with others in need and to use their time, talents, and passions to make a difference. Explore the many ways empathy is being taught at GAC.