Empathy — why it matters and how to teach it

by Hugo Shephard

We love a good debate about life skills here at Role Models. Recently, we went to a fascinating talk on a key life skill, empathy. Sir Peter Bazalgette was discussing his book, ‘The Empathy Instinct’. He confirmed what we’ve known for a long time and why we discuss this skill as part of our young leader’s programme. Developing empathy is a key life skill for young people in particular. Seeing the world through other people’s eyes and understanding how other people feel is as important a life skill as writing and reading. It allows young people to develop instincts and relationships that give them a great foundation from which to grow their emotional intelligence.

Why does this matter? Well, we do lots of work trying to understand why better life skills mean better results. Nearly 3,000 science articles have been published on emotional intelligence (or EQ as it’s sometimes called) since the concept was first introduced. These studies all point to the fact that EQ and soft skills are mostly influenced by our early childhood experiences and they can be dramatically improved with substantial effort, guidance, and coaching. It’s one of the reasons our business exists.

How can you help your children develop empathy? You can take them to the theatre for starters. Seeing a play or a musical is all about seeing things from different perspectives. Afterwards, talk to them about the characters, the action, the ending and get them to explain why seeing things from all sides really matters. A painting can reveal a thousand things too. Why has the artist done it like that? From the artist’s point of view, why does that matter? What is it about the artist’s life that has given them that perspective? You can easily teach empathy in lots of everyday situations too. How do you think that made the other person feel is often a better question than why did you do that?

We’ve also noticed something else this month that should do. The Empathy Museum is the world’s first experiential space dedicated to developing the skill of empathising. Their current exhibition is a fantastic idea. You can find it between the 8th and 25th February at the Migration Museum, London SE1 7AG. ‘A Mile in My Shoes’ is a space where visitors are invited to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes-literally.

Housed in a giant shoebox, this exhibit holds a diverse collection of shoes and audio stories that explore our shared humanity. From a Syrian refugee to a sex worker, a war veteran to a neurosurgeon, visitors are invited to walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger whilst listening to their story. The stories cover different aspects of life, from loss and grief to hope and love and take the visitor on an empathetic as well as a physical journey. They now have a collection of over 150 stories/shoes and have welcomed over 10,000 visitors since September 2015. Now, that’s what we call creative.

We are offering our readers a chance to put their children into one of our Life Skills Courses to see we can enhance empathy. Enter here.

Find out more

Role Models help children fly by giving them the skills they need to grow, develop and thrive in a changing world because they believe that children should be skilled for life as well as being schooled in the classroom.

To do this, they offer individual creative childcare to support childrens’ passions. They also provide courses that give children some of the key skills to succeed in the 21st century; leadership, resilience, teamwork and creative problem solving. They approach everything in a way that’s serious fun. Click here to learn more.

Hugo Shephard is the Managing Director of Role Models. The Role Models philosophy is to nurture character in children because they believe that ‘soft skills’ are as important as academic attainment. They focus on the individual strengths of every child and are deeply committed to supporting them through their formative years, ­whether that be through their Creative Childcare, Life Skills Courses or Special Needs Camps.. Before founding Role Models, Hugo worked at Ernst & Young as a Management Consultant in the healthcare sector.

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