When we talk about the 3 buckets of skills children need to read well, it’s Awareness & Regulation skills that people wonder about the most: how do these skills impact reading and academic skills?
Today’s blog looks at one type of Awareness & Regulation skill in particular:empathy, a combination of perspective-taking and compassion. We know that empathy is crucial to health and well-being because it helps a child build strong relationships, be caring toward others, and make ethical decisions– but empathy also promotes reading and school success. In fact, studies from years past have linked high scores on measures of empathy to higher grade point averages.
How is empathy related to reading and academic skills?
Think about it this way:
- Perspective-taking is critical for reading because reading comprehension often demands an understanding of conflicts between characters, dilemmas characters face, and how characters feel. Without strong skills in empathizing and understanding the needs of others, children are less likely to understand characters’ perspectives when they are reading or listening to stories.
- In all academic subjects, children who have empathy work better with others and therefore tend to do well in group work. In schools today, group work is integral to success (as it is in the work world, too). Without the ability to see others’ perspectives and have empathy, children are less likely to respond to group members’ ideas without judging, and then be able to work well together and come up with a plan/complete a project.
What does this mean for parents?
Children are born with the ability to empathize, but it has to be modeled and practiced throughout a child’s life in order to become natural to him/her. How?
- When parents take care of children physically and help children feel better when they are struggling or sad or need help, parents are modeling empathy.
- When parents talk about the feelings or needs of others around them, and when children see parents help others and are encouraged to help, too, children have the chance to learn about and practice empathy in their daily lives.
Ideas for helping build a child’s empathy and perspective-taking skills:
Take a moment to talk to your child about the possible needs of others as you walk along the sidewalk, and you will be modeling and guiding your child to practice looking at life from another person’s point of view. How? Focus, for example, on how people with disabilities can be faced with difficulties when getting around town (and use language that builds vocabulary, too).
- Talk about how ramps make it easier when you’re pushing a carriage, but how essential ramps are for people who use wheelchairs.
- Point out signs that show when a building is wheelchair accessible. Then talk about how the word access is within accessible and in this case access means the building has been built so all people can get into and use the building.
- Ask your child how he thinks someone in a wheelchair navigates a sidewalk when there is a curb instead of a ramp, and how that person must feel about it.
- When you get on the bus or subway, ask your child how he thinks the vehicle has been adapted to allow wheelchair users to access the service.
You’ll be helping your child build Awareness & Regulation skills whenever you get him to see the world from other people’s perspectives; plus, if you throw in more sophisticated language you will build his Vocabulary & Knowledge skills, too! And all of this builds up a child’s ability to think critically–and therefore read critically–all while developing the critical skills needed to be an ethical person. A clear win, win.
For more information, read more on promoting empathy.