Empathy–do this simple, free activity with kids

After reading Bob Sornson’s book, Stand in My Shoes: Kids learning about empathy, Sheila Sjolseth wrote about a family activity worth sharing with our readers.

The ability to notice what others feel

Empathy is “the ability to notice what other people feel. Empathy leads to the social skills and personal relationships which make our lives rich…, and it is something we can help our children learn,” says Bob Sornson,

Sheila’s idea

empathy shoes exerciseI’m quoting here from Sheila’s account of what she did to reinforce the book’s theme with her children.  “The book is about a little girl in her quest to learn to think from another’s perspective, recognize need, and see ways to help fill those needs.  In nine different situations where someone needs help, the main character tries to imagine what that person is going through and attempts to help.”

After reading the story and discussion the situations, we decided to try and look at life from the perspective of the members in our family.”

We wanted to answer the questions:

  • What bothers this person?
  • What makes this person happy?

We gathered up our shoes

empathy boy's shoe“We took turns standing in each other’s shoes and tried to imagine what it is like to be the other person in order to answer the questions.

Some of the answers were funny:

“When wearing my shoes, to answer the question “What bothers Mom?”–one boy answered, “smelly toots.”  The other boy said, “when we don’t eat our food.”  And, I realized that he was right!  It bothers me when the boys don’t eat.

The activity just took a few minutes

But we learned that we knew quite a bit about each other.  When we didn’t really know the answer, other members of the family chimed in to help out.  And, it is always silly fun to try and walk around in someone else’s shoes!

My spiritual takeaway

When we practice empathy we bring God’s character to bear in life situations. God understands everything we feel and we in turn extend this understanding to others with whom we share life.

* Find Sheila Sjolseth here.

Tweetable: Keep on trying–teach kids to recognize need and think of ways to meet needs for people close to them at school or home. This simple, quick, imaginative activity might get the point across to some kids in your life. Click to Tweet

Children ask, “Why does God allow disasters?”

flood why God? The headline in my local newspaper reads, “Worst [flood] in a generation,” as the Russian River turned storm-battered towns into islands. Once again, older kids ask: “What was God thinking?” Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?

When I talk with children I draw from the thinking of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:.

God is not in disasters.

There’s a great conversation recorded in the Old Testament* between God and a holy man, Elijah. God taught Elijah that he, God, is not in windstorms, earthquakes or fires, but in the gentle whisper that heals.

We live in a physical world.

“Natural disasters,” said the 12th century sage Moses Maimonides, “have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.”

What do we do about it?

A better question than asking why this happened is – What can we do about it? “That is why, in temples, churches and mosques, along with our prayers for the injured and grieving, we ask people to donate money to assist the work of relief.”

We become God’s partners in healing.

“Our response is not to seek to understand and thereby accept,” says Rabbi Sacks. Instead we are the people God has called on to be God’s partners. We can say, ‘God, I do not know why this disaster happened, but I do know what you want of me: to help the suffering, comfort the grieving, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.’ ”

We imitate God’s love and care.

“After an earlier flood, in the days of Noah, God made God’s first covenant with humankind. Genesis records** that God had seen ‘a world filled with corruption and violence’ and asked Noah to institute a social order that would honor human life as the image of God. Not as an explanation of suffering but as a response to it.

The covenant of human solidarity

“In our collective sadness for any type of disaster, we renew the covenant of human solidarity. Having seen how small and vulnerable humanity is in the face of nature, might we not also see how small are the things the divide us, and how tragic to add grief to grief?”  

*1 Kings chapter 19, verses 9-13. **Genesis 6:11

Tweetable: Be ready to talk with kids when they ask about disasters, human suffering, and hardships. Bullet points here guide you. Click to Tweet