On Teaching Empathy

3 Jul

“It’s clear we need to cultivate empathy in all children,

but gender stereotypes — often reinforced in playrooms —

risk leaving boys, in particular, with a social deficit.”


*photo from the article*

I read an article last night about teaching empathy to children. (Read: Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys.) I couldn’t agree more to every line mentioned. Hence, I shared the article in all my social networking sites. I don’t care if my virtual friends find it annoying that they have read the same FB status on my tweets. (Plural form because I had to post the same thing on Twitter in chunks haha) I just want the article to reach as many people as I can because in our world today, all of us can and should care a little more.

According to Mr. Webster, empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” It is the ability to feel what the other one is feeling, putting one’s self in the situation of the other.

But why is it important?

“First, empathy breeds courage. In a recent study of nearly 900 youth, ages 11-13, Nicola Abbott and Lindsey Cameron’s, psychology researchers at University of Kent, found that participants with higher levels of empathy were more likely to engage in “assertive bystander behavior.” In other words, they were willing to stand up to a bully on behalf of someone outside their peer group. This kind of courage can be life changing for a victim of bullying and prevent the damaging effects of social isolation and exclusion that often lead to anxiety and depression.”

Showing empathy goes beyond words of comfort or encouragement. Empathy drives you into action.

“Empathy also yields happiness. People with empathy have stronger interpersonal connections and are more eager to collaborate, effectively negotiate, demonstrate compassion, and offer support. They’re team players, and employers recognize this.”

We live every day interacting with different people. Some people have a good day, while some have a bad one. Through empathy, we take verbal and non-verbal cues when we deal with them. Showing empathy, or the lack of it, can make or break someone’s day. We prefer the former, of course. Sometimes, simple gestures like an “it’ll be okay” and a tap on the back go a long way.

“Empathy drives thoughtful problem solving. Emphatic problem solvers put themselves in others’ shoes in a way that allows them to design life-saving baby warmers, easily collapsible baby strollers, and energy-saving car sharing services. In addition, they’re often willing to work with others to solve persistent and, at times, larger problems. Rather than hoarding their knowledge and expertise, they open themselves up to what Greg Satell calls cognitive collaboration, in order to serve patients, clients, students, and even their respective fields, more effectively.”

I don’t think I need to further explain this. Just think “no man is an island,” “two heads are better than one,” and all other clichés. Haha!

Now that we have established the importance of empathy, a concern was brought up in the article. Empathy can be seen taught in girls, but not so much in boys. Gender stereotypes limit the way boys grasp empathy.


When boys cry, play with dolls like they are babies, or does pretend play in the kitchen, we label them as weak, soft or gay. Chores and taking care of people at home are tasks not just for women, and it is not connected with sexual orientation and gender identity. These are tasks a family living in a household do together. We all do our share, no matter how little… and we start this in our own homes, by teaching empathy to our sons, our brothers, our male cousins, our nephews, or the sons of our neighbors. When boys grow up into men, we should have instilled empathy in them. We don’t want a workmate, a boss or worse, a president to be a douche. Right?

There is no gene for empathy so we should all do our share in nurturing both boys and girls develop this learned behavior. Empathy is not an easy thing to grasp for children. Developmentally, children are egoistic, but do we stop there? Through modeling, we make it easier for them to understand what and how empathy is done. As I’ve said, all of us can care a little more, not by mere words, but by our actions as well.


P. S. A part of me is thinking that my being gay has been reaffirmed. For me, empathy is an important value which is lacking in men around me. If there were somehow more caring, I may have been bi! Haha I was “born this way,” but my reflections after reading this article just emphasized my preference all the more. 😉 Haha



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