Empathy is an essential life skill to instill in your child from a young age. One way of doing this is through books; many focus on this topic in story format. Children find learning through stories very relatable.
Have you ever noticed a two-year-old child holding or gently holding the hand of a friend who is crying or feeling sad? These are instances of young children demonstrating, learning, and experiencing teamwork, support, empathy, respect, care, problem-solving, and a sense of belonging to the class community.
These are important and valuable topics that we usually discuss with middle-aged children or in their teenage days. However, younger children also understand these aspects of personality at a very young age.
Character development is the basis for lifetime learning. However, character development isn’t something that should wait until the child gets to a kindergarten program or school. Schools that focus on character development have noted enhanced academic achievement and participation. They also have seen a direct reduction in disciplinary problems. One final observation is that children can amaze us in their ability to demonstrate empathy, kindness, and caring.
Cultivating empathy is easier when we feel secure about ourselves. Reading books and stories together that demonstrate empathy is the best way to build that sense of security and belonging that young children need. A simple action, such as cuddling and reading, collectively stimulates young children’s empathy muscles.
Additionally, illustrated books let young children discover unlimited opportunities beyond their own. Across the sides of a great book, they can view the people collaborating, or not; displaying kindness, or not; and working out conflicts, or not. Children can imagine themselves as the characters and also find out about people who are unique from them. Preschooler’s books let young children “try on” story settings and feel and express their emotions.
We have listed a few more suggestions for using young preschooler’s books to develop empathy and care for each other at home:
- Find good-quality young children’s books with people that feel authentic.
- Read aloud books together slowly. See the pictures and make observations to link the book with your child’s knowledge, for example, “This reminds me of the first time you took skating lessons. Remember how you felt terrified, but then you met Sara, and she was frightened, too? You developed friendships later, and you were very courageous together.”
- Reading books is a beautiful time to construct an “emotions language” with your little one so they can identify and understand other’s emotions – an early age empathy skill. First, take a moment to label the characters’ feelings in the book and the cues that guided you to that observation. For instance, try telling something like, “I think Greta feels sad because she is crying.” Next, talk about others’ emotions. For example, “Matt is feeling sad because you took his toy bike. Please give Matt back his bike, and then you select an alternative one to play with.”
- Read treasured books more than once. Children tend to get connected to specific books because those books are relatable to them. Frequent reading of the same book allows them to explore it in depth.
- Engage in conversations about much-loved books and connect them to your life. For example, you can try stating, “This reminds me of the little girl in Little Red Riding Hood. Remember how she….”
Growing empathy takes time. Your child perhaps won’t be a thoroughly compassionate being by preschool age. However, a large and very regular part of being a two-year-old concentrates on mine and me. Keep in mind, empathy is a difficult skill and will continue to grow across your child’s life span.