Many parents, researchers and educators are interested in understanding how empathy develops in children. Empathy – defined as the capacity to or action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. Arguably the most socially-meaningful part of the definition is: “being sensitive to …the feelings, thoughts and experience of another.” This is where the magic happens (or doesn’t). The ability to not only name another person’s perspective (i.e. If I hit my brother he will feel sad) but to actually “feel” what another feels (i.e. If I hit my brother he will feel sad AND I will feel sad) can have an impact on behavior.
Teaching empathy to children is a lofty goal – especially with so vague a definition. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “foster” empathy or “set the occasion for” empathy. Either way, a neat organization out of Canada called Roots of Empathy, has undertaken the challenge in a really innovative way. They offer a video on their website which is certainly worth the time it takes to watch.