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Ep. 97 - How to Support Children’s Development of Empathy

Jul 12, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Dr. Dana Winters of the Fred Rogers Institute about supporting children in the development of empathy.

More specifically, she speaks about the "simple interaction" approach. This approach focuses on four key dimensions of interaction: connection, reciprocity, inclusion, and purpose.

  • Connection refers to the emotional engagement between two people. 
  • Reciprocity refers to the way that two people balance the roles of engagement in an interaction. In a reciprocal interaction, both people have the opportunity to lead and follow. 
  • Inclusion refers to the way that two people make each other feel welcome and valued. 
  • Purpose refers to the reason why two people are interacting. When two people have a shared purpose, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated. 

The simple interaction approach can be used in any setting, from the home to the classroom. By focusing on these four key dimensions, adults can help children develop empathy and build positive relationships. A few specific examples of how to use the simple interaction approach with children include: 

  • Connection: When you are talking to a child, make eye contact, smile, and use positive body language. Listen attentively to what the child has to say, and ask questions to show that you are interested.
  • Reciprocity: When playing with a child, take turns leading and following. Give the child opportunities to make decisions and take charge.
  • Inclusion: When you are in a group with children, make sure that everyone feels included. Use inclusive language, and give everyone a chance to participate.
  • Purpose: When you are working with a child on a task, be clear about the goal. Provide feedback, and celebrate successes.

In addition to the simple interaction approach, there are many other ways to teach children empathy. Here are a few more:

  • Read books about empathy. There are many children's books that focus on empathy, such as "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein and "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch.
  • Talk to children about empathy. Explain to children what empathy is and why it is important. Talk about how they can show empathy to others.
  • Model empathy. Children learn by watching the adults in their lives. Be sure to model empathy in your own interactions with others.
  • Encourage children to help others. When children help others, they learn to understand and care about the needs of others. There are many ways to encourage children to help others, such as volunteering at a local soup kitchen or donating toys to a children's hospital.

Tune into our episode to learn more about specific ways to use the simple interaction approach and support children in their development of empathy. 

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