Teaching children to say “I’m sorry” is a common strategy people use to help children learn the difference between right and wrong and asking for forgiveness. Sorry, as a word, means very little to young children. It’s a thing that’s required like “please” and “thank you,” but it’s more of an “adult pleaser” and has very little impact to children. So what does it really mean?
As parents and teachers work on supporting children’s emotional development, an important character trait to help establish is empathy. Showing empathy to a child is the first step in teaching them to have empathy for others. “Olivia, I see that you’re mad because your brother broke your building.” This helps Olivia understand you have empathy for her while also addressing empathy for her brother. “We need to keep him safe. What should we do to help him feel better?” Talking through problems will also support problem solving skills and cognitive development.
Developing empathy is a gradual process. Social psychologists believe that although children are born with a capacity for empathy, they can also learn to become empathic. However, empathy has to be natural, spontaneous, and sincere. So having a child say sorry when they are not does not support empathy development.
•Teach words about feelings and emotions. Together create faces in a mirror or on flannel board and talk about how the expressions make the children feel-happy, mad, sad.
•Display pictures depicting various emotions and empathic scenes. Use a camera to capture thoughtful interactions in your classroom, then mount the pictures and label them with the children’s names and the helpful actions they’re engaged in.
•Keep dialogue open. Ask a child who is distressed what would make him feel better. Encourage other children to help assist with his suggestions, if possible. “Amanda, are you mad?”
•Ask open-ended questions to help encourage empathy. By asking, “How can we help Dennis feel better about his broken toy tractor?” children will brainstorm meaningful ways to show kindness.
•Be a kind and empathic role model. Demonstrate nonverbal and verbal strategies while working with needy children. Initiate caring gestures-a hug, a soothing back rub, holding or patting a hand. Use a soft, calming voice as you let a child know you understand how she feels.
Age & Stages: Empathyhttp://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ages-stages-empathy