IMG_8848I’m guessing if you asked many parents if they wanted an empathetic child, they’d respond yes. And most of those same parents spend loads of time prepping their children for school, singing the A-B-C’s and reciting various counting rhymes. And of course, every early childhood classroom places some emphasis on developing empathy within their charges “how do you think that makes Sam feel when you take his things?” “It looks like Oscar is sad to be at school today”. But what happens when children head off to elementary school?

Although I’m not about to accuse an elementary classroom of being devoid of empathy, I will suggest that the teaching of it takes a backseat to many other pursuits. In my own child’s school, I believe the counselor has 12 scheduled visits with his classroom this year. TWELVE – to teach a whole host of things, one of which is probably empathy.

The group Start Empathy is working to change that emphasis and incorporate empathy into the whole curriculum. And as a parent, it’s hard for me not to wish this emphasis was in my own child’s elementary school.

With a focus on empathy, children can learn to work together to solve problems. Children can learn to resist cutting someone else’s ideas off at the pass, because they respect that this could make the other child feel poorly. Just imagine what change might be possible if schools set teaching empathy as their primary goal, and let the more academic skills fall in around it.

At home, parents can play a huge role. For example, we can listen to our children, even when the phone is ringing. We can model empathy, something that we likely already do, but maybe if we keep it in the forefront of our parenting, we’ll do an even better job.

Since the Newtown shootings, I’ve often thought – for someone to go into that school and wreak such havoc and then turn the gun on himself, he must have thought his own life was valueless. And maybe, somewhere along the way, someone had the opportunity to give his live value, and maybe that would’ve changed everything that happened on that horrible day. I want my children to know they are loved. I want your children to know the same thing. I want to build a world of empathy.

What are your thoughts on empathy? Can we teach it? Is there a place for it in the school curriculum?

I was introduced to the group Start Empathy at a lunch I attended at Nora’s restaurant in DC. I was not required to write about the group, and all opinions are my own.