Lots of recent events have me wondering how to encourage and foster empathy. Empathy is when one person is able to understand how another person is feeling. This sense of understanding is not something we are born with, it is a skill that we learn. The ability to empathize is critical because it allows us to understand other people. It's an opportunity to show caring and compassion; one of the 5 C's of positive youth development. And, it's an essential skill for creating an inclusive world.
We as youth workers have an important role play. We can facilitate strategies to develop and nurture empathy in young people. Embedded in hands-on experiential learning processes, the following strategies can help support development of empathy in youth:
- Story-sharing. Read together! This can be a great discussion and reflection-starter. Here’s a list of books to help start conversations.
- Help youth talk to other youth outside their usual circle.
- Play games. Help youth discover commonalities among the group.
- Role-play. Create a safe place where youth can explore being someone different.
It's important to discuss and process these experiences. These strategies set the stage for experiential learning beginning with the “doing” phase (the experience), however it’s as important to insure youth “reflect” to deepen their learning, and then “apply” this beyond the experience.
If you are looking for a curriculum to explore this topic more in-depth, WeConnect, written by my colleagues in Minnesota, is one that facilitates youth understanding as participants in a global society "inspiring a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people."
--Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator