ChildLinks Issue 2: Empathy

Barnardos. (2017). ChildLinks Issue 2: Empathy.
In this issue of ChildLinks we look at empathy, which can be defined in general terms as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is generally accepted that highly empathic people enjoy more successful, less stressful relationships as they are aware of, understand and are sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of others. The ability and willingness to show compassion, to relate, take turns, share, care, compromise, conciliate and cooperate are all part of empathy and all valuable skills for children to learn. The best way for children to develop empathy and become socially intelligent, emotionally literate individuals is to experience being in relationships with people, especially parents, family and teachers, who are themselves empathic. The first article in this issue evaluates the importance of children learning the skills of empathy if they are to become socially competent members of society. In the article that follows, Dr Geraldine French demonstrates how experiences and interactions in the earliest months of life impact on neural circuits, overall brain development and, in particular, the development of empathy and altruist motivation in children from birth. This article also offers guidance on supporting empathy in early childhood education and care practice through responsive reciprocal relationships. The following articles look at programmes that have the specific aim of supporting children to develop social and emotional skills, and empathy in particular. Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom programme that has been shown to reduce aggression, including bullying. The programme aims to increase prosocial behaviours such as helping, sharing and caring in the short term, and strives to break intergenerational cycles of violence and poor parenting in the long term. The Restorative Practices programme encompasses both a philosophy and a set of skills with the core aim of building strong relationships and resolving conflict in a simple and emotionally healthy manner. Restorative Practices skills range from the universal everyday proactive ones of using restorative language and having restorative conversations to the more targeted use of restorative conferencing to repair harm. The third programme, the Changemaker Schools programme, has four key components: empathy, creativity, leadership and teamwork. This programme highlights how an empathy-based curriculum can be delivered in a simple, inexpensive way within the cultural context of a school. The final article in this issue looks at the suite of evidence-informed, outcome-focused programmes Barnardos offers to children and parents, all with the aim of increasing children’s capacity to learn and develop, and to improve their emotional wellbeing and safety. Barnardos believes in investing in the development of empathy in children from an early age as children who are empathic are better able to cope with conflict and difficult social situations, are less likely to engage in bullying behaviour, and are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults with adaptive coping skills.