“I know how you feel right now.”
How many times do you hear people say, “I know how you feel right now.” From inside the school gate we say this phrase several times a day. Expressing empathy to show we understand and share the feelings of our colleagues when they are talking about their frustrations with the curriculum or when discussing a tricky child who is causing concern, is a natural form of communication. It is comforting and reassuring to know a colleague experiences the same feelings and between you there could be a solution to the situation. Indeed, showing empathy without judgement often leads people to finding their own solutions to those problems. Without realising it, we are coaching one another starting with empathy.
But what about the parents?
As with the staff, similar conversations are being held with parents who seek guidance and support for parenting their children at home. Showing empathy in this situation is comforting to parents; they feel safe in the knowledge they are not alone in their parenting role. Many parents just need someone to listen to their situations and be empathetic. Taking time to really listen to parents cannot be underestimated in building a values-based community.
And how do we develop empathy with our children?
Empathetic conversations are more difficult to encourage between children. It involves teaching children the ability to listen at a deeper level and not have their mind full of answers or their own agenda. The only way to develop this skill is to practice it. Using teaching techniques such as Philosophy for Children or P4C, pupils really do develop a new way of listening to their peers. Just sitting children in a circle with no other distractions with the teacher as the facilitator is powerful. Eye contact is encouraged, whilst communication is modelled by the facilitator; openness and honesty are championed. Often the stimulus leads to a topic that the children can relate to on a personal level, whatever their age, and this is where empathy ensues. As the facilitator you enable children to have the conversations they may have been avoiding. Sometimes the P4C session can become emotionally charged, but critically children are learning to show empathy, understanding and expand their knowledge in a safe place.
If we develop the value of empathy with our children, they will be equipped with a unique skill for life-the ability to listen without judgement. This would be a special gift for them to have.