Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

Building Social and Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Empathy

April 26, 2013
Image credit: iStockphoto

This is part seven of the nine-part series from the Project Happiness curriculum. We are looking at important factors that influence the happiness and social and emotional learning of elementary school age children, helping students learn life skills, manage emotions, and increase empathy. Each blog post features one letter of the acronym HAPPINESS:

  1. H = Happiness
  2. A = Appreciation
  3. P = Passions and Strengths
  4. P = Perspective
  5. I = Inner Meanie/Inner Friend
  6. N = Ninja Mastery
  7. E = Empathy
  8. S = So Similar
  9. S = Share Your Gifts

In this post, we will explore Empathy.

Why is it important to "walk in someone else's shoes?" According to a study by the Brookings Institution, "Higher curriculum standards don't correlate to higher student achievement; empathy does." Empathy is also gaining attention as an important component of emotional intelligence and as a way to reduce bullying. When a person learns to understand and share the feelings of another, the pro-social behavior that results shows up in better relationships, closer friendships and stronger communities -- it's that important!

Here are five steps to cultivate empathy:

  1. Watch & Listen: What is the other person saying, and what is his or her body language?
  2. Remember: When did you feel the same way?
  3. Imagine: How does the other person feel? And how would you feel in that situation?
  4. Ask: Ask what the person is feeling.
  5. Show You Care: Let him or her know that you care through your words and actions.

(You can find lesson plans and additional resources about this at

How is Empathy Being Developed in Schools?

There are many approaches to teaching empathy. Here are ten interesting ways that aspects of empathy are being introduced:

    The students learn that I trust them to be kind, loving and intelligent. And they are learning to trust that I will think of them that way. We learn to trust each other . . . help each other if we fall . . . and use our voices to make change. When children first start to use their voices in the classroom, it provides for a test as to how they may be received. Will they be listened to? Will they be laughed at? Are they important?

Do you see this as an important issue? In what ways have you cultivated empathy in your classroom?

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Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Classroom Management
  • Mental Health
  • K-2 Primary
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary

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