One more reason to encourage empathy: it sets up children for reading and school success

When we talk about the 3 buckets of skills children need to read well, people wonder how Awareness & Regulation skills make a difference for reading and academic success.

Today we look at empathy, which is a combination of perspective-taking and compassion. This type of Awareness & Regulation skill is known to be 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?

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. They’re less able to work well together and come up with a plan and 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?

  • Parent model empathy when they take care of children physically and help.
  • Children have the chance to learn about and practice 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.

Ideas for helping build a child’s empathy and perspective-taking skills:

As you walk together in your city or town, talk to your child about what others around you might need as they move around the area. You’ll be modeling and guiding your child to look at life from another person’s point of view.

For example, start a conversation about the kinds of things that people with disabilities face when getting around town. Use language that builds vocabulary and you’ll be doing even more skill building!

  • 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.

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