Why Empathy is So Important
Empathy is arguably the best way to prevent violence in society and the most important skill children need to succeed in the 21st century. Yet studies show that empathy is on the decline, and few schools or parents focus on it. A failure of empathy is linked to a variety of unwanted social behaviors, such as bullying and the abuse and neglect of both people and animals. A failure of empathy may also make it difficult to lead others well, solve complex social problems or have positive, meaningful relationships with family, friends, coworkers and pets.
Why Talk About Pets to Build Empathy?
The U.S. National Parent-Teacher Association Congress states: "Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind and considerate in their relations to one another. Character training along these lines in youth will result in men and women of broader sympathies; more humane, more law-abiding, in every respect, more valuable citizens."
- Fostering strong bonds between kids and pets provides kids a solid foundation with which to practice and build positive relationship skills and empathy.
- Kids find it safer and easier to talk about relationships with animals than people.
- Even when kids do not have pets in the home, they love learning and talking about animals.
- A stronger understanding about animals, better bonds with animals and a more empathetic society also improves pet care and behavior in homes and reduces animal cruelty and neglect.
How Reading Increases Empathy
Books by themselves provide the perfect avenue for practicing perspective-talking because a typical reader inevitably finds himself thinking from the perspective of the characters in order to anticipate what might happen next in the story. Some scholars have suggested the decrease in reading may actually be responsible for the steady decrease in empathy.
Using illustrated books with compelling characters behaving accurately and displaying appropriate emotional states combined with questioning strategies increased comprehension and helped facilitate and reinforce perspective-talking. Kids learn and think about emotional and behavioral states while engaging in critical thinking to analyze how and why characters are behaving/feeling the way they are and how they would feel in similar situations.
Learning the emotional and behavioral states of others is critical to the development of empathy.
Raising Humane Kids
Growing up humane in a violent world is not easy these days. That's why programs that aim to reinforce positive attitudes and behaviors, while discouraging negative ones, are so important. Children who grow up with positive attitudes may be more likely to resist negative peer pressure later on. Children who learn compassion and empathy realize that they can make a difference.
Humane education is a process by which a person comes to realized that all life is precious, and that there is an interdependency between people and animals. Continuing the statement from above, the National P.T.A. Congress goes on to say: "The cultivation of the spirit of kindness to animals is but the starting point towards that larger humanity which includes one's fellow of every race and clime."
- Humane education offers many benefits, including:
- Promotes self-esteem and empowers children
- Assists in the prevention of child abuse
- Promotes trusting and nurturing behaviors
- Promotes compassion for others
- Promotes health and well-being
- Assists in preventing future violent behaviors