Children and empathy: Teamwork

Teaching children the value of collaboration and teamwork can help them develop empathy.

Empathy is an increasingly important tool for connecting with the world.
Empathy is an increasingly important tool for connecting with the world.

In the book “Unselfie: Why empathetic kids succeed in our All-About-Me World,” educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba talks about the importance of empathy, why children are having a harder time developing it and how to help children learn empathy to succeed.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone’s shoes and understand what they are going through; it’s the ability to feel what they are feeling. Why is empathy so important? With ongoing societal issues like bullying and youth mental health concerns, teaching empathy to children is more important than ever.

Empathetic people have the ability to connect with others on a deeper level and can lead to individuals being helpful, involved and invested in other people. In our social society where we have to rely on each other, empathy is an increasingly important tool to connect with the world.

Empathy and teamwork

We live in a self-centered world, where individual achievement and recognition are highly valued. Group projects don’t end with high school history projects; they are found in the professional and personal lives of adults as well. The need to collaborate is evident, and beyond preparing children for the reality of adult life, ensuring that children understand the value of collaboration as well as the fundamentals of implementing it is a great way to prepare them to be empathetic individuals. Dr. Borba suggests ways to help teach your child teamwork and collaboration.

Let them play. It’s easy for children to be overscheduled in today’s world. Make sure they have plenty of time for unstructured free play with their peers. So often opportunities for play are so structured or heavily supervised that children don’t get authentic opportunities to engage in teamwork or collaboration. By providing lots of active, unstructured time, you will ensure your child has opportunities to practice collaboration, problem-solving and conflict resolution.

Teach them conflict resolution skills. Conflict is a necessary part of life, but by teaching your child how to handle it positively you are giving them the tools they need to work through problems and work effectively with other people. Help teach your child to identify the problem, name the emotions associated with the problem and make sure they give everyone involved in the conflict the opportunity to share their perspective. Then, teach them how to suggest solutions, negotiate, compromise and find a way to work through their issue. Their solutions won’t always work, and that’s OK! You can be there to help them work through it and find another solution to try.

Talk about “we” and “us.” It’s easy to think in terms of “me” and “I,” but by helping children see and understand that even though there may be obvious differences between themselves and other people, those differences don’t have to define us. There are so many ways we are similar to others, even though we may be different races, genders, ages, socioeconomic classes or religions. When we teach children to identify with diverse people, you are giving them skills to empathize with others and show kindness and empathy.

For more information, visit Dr. Borba's website. For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families are experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2015 Impact Reports: “Preparing young children to success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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