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Want to Help Your Kids Build Empathy? Start at Your Local Library!

One of the challenges that many parents face is getting their children to see something from someone else’s

point of view. It can be difficult to master empathy, which is the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their point of view, instead of your own. This crucial skill can help kids become more compassionate people, and do kind things without being asked or forced into it. So how can parents help their kids build empathy?

A partnership between Blackburn Center and area libraries answers that question, with a series of workshops aimed at kids in kindergarten through third grade. Titled “How to Get Along with Others,” the program encompasses activities such as reading, worksheets, and yoga to help children recognize emotions in themselves and in others. The end goal of this program is to help prevent bullying and other forms of violence or abuse.

According to Education Specialist Deanna Ferry, studies show that empathy education for kids can address the root causes of many forms of violence, and “the earlier you get kids, the better.” Research shows that empathy education not only reduces violence in our culture, but has individual benefits for the children who receive it.

One study demonstrated that children who are taught social and emotional skills have better social skills and fewer behavioral problems than children who do not receive this type of education. A separate study from Penn State and Duke followed 750 people for 20 years. The researchers found that the children who showed empathy in kindergarten — such as sharing and helping others — were more likely to graduate from high school and have full-time jobs.

Through our programs, children engage in activities such as “Calm Down Yoga for Kids,” where they learn poses for statements like:

  • I am strong;

  • I am kind;

  • I am brave;

  • I am friendly; and

  • I am wise.

Kids also identify expressions on felt faces, and draw their own faces as happy, sad, angry and surprised. This work helps children identify and recognize their emotions, which is important in building resiliency — and in recognizing emotions in others. Our Education Specialists read books about empathy to participants, and prompt them to answer questions about topics such as times that they saw someone who was left out, or what they might do if someone did something bad to them.

Empathy is an important tool for all of us, and is particularly crucial for kids to develop. Working with kids to help them become more empathetic can change our culture for the better — and improve their own lives and futures.

This summer, Blackburn Center is presenting its empathy-building program at Mt. Pleasant Library, the Scottsdale Public Library and the Greensburg-Hempfield Area Library, as well as at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. If you are interested in this type of programming, share this resource with your local library!

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