Can empathy be taught or is it genetically hard-wired? You may have heard people say; “You either have empathy, or you don’t," “Everyone is born with a certain amount of empathy,” “Girls have more empathy than boys.”
In Dr. Riess’ TEDx talk, she reveals her scientific findings that humans CAN develop greater empathy skills. As an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Riess has administered numerous studies using her E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. formula. Her formula has proven to increase empathy skills among those who use it.
Additionally, Daniel Coyle the author of “The Talent Code" states, a person can change his or her behavior and habits by growing myelin. You "grow" myelin by doing deep practice of a particular skill. Furthermore, in the book “Mindset,” Carol Dweck points out that if we develop a growth mindset, we can change the way we view and do things. In other words, you can teach an old dog new tricks if they have an open mindset.
It is important to continue to practice empathy skills with students of all ages, from pre-school to high school. We’ve put together a fun kindness activity to help you and your students improve your empathy skills.
Step 1: Open with a video
Show your students the age-appropriate video about empathy. We suggest you show the elementary video link to ALL grades K-12 before showing the age-appropriate video. Why? The elementary video is easy to understand.
Step 2: Read stories
Print off all three stories that we adapted from Character Education:
For younger grades, have a parent volunteer or teacher read the stories to the class. For older grades, ask for three student volunteers to read each story to the class. If your classroom has the capability, you could project the stories.
Step 3: Discuss the empathy formula
Write Dr. Riess' empathy formula on the board.
E = eye contact
M = movement
P = posture
A = affect or expressed emotions
T = tone of voice
H = hearing the whole person without judgment
Y = your response
You can do this discussion as a whole group or pair students into smaller groups. Discuss how the empathy formula is unfolding in each of the stories. Ask the students to come up with specific examples from each story. For instance, in the story "Puppies For Sale," the last line - “With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup.”
Step 4: Brainstorm real issues
As a class brainstorm and write out a list of struggles that people might be going through; this can be a family pet that has just passed, a grandparent who is sick, a bad grade in class, someone who is struggling with a particular friendship, being stressed out about an exam, etc.
Step 5: Give a message of kindness
Ask your students (and yourself) to get out a piece of paper. Have them to write down a name of someone they know who has been struggling or maybe just needs a little kindness done for them. Invite your students to write a note or draw a picture for the person they wrote down. Then ask your students to give his or her message of kindness to that person as soon as it is possible.
Share your stories, pictures, and thoughts with us! #ichoose2bekind
Note From the Founder
Hello. I am the founder of the 21 Day Kindness Challenge Program.