“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
This is the advice provided by Atticus Finch, a fictional character in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; advice that Barack Obama encouraged the world to heed in his farewell address in January.
Empathy is a critical leadership skill of great importance in the world, and a skill we all hope our boys will develop. So, how do we help develop compassion and empathy in our boys?
Firstly, we need to consider the research.
According to a study published in Developmental Psychology, the ‘cognitive empathy’ of boys begins to rise from the age of 15, while their ‘affective empathy’ has a temporary decline between the ages of 13 and 16.
Cognitive empathy refers to the ability to think about things from another person’s point of view. Affective empathy is the ability to recognise and respond to others’ feelings appropriately.
With this research in mind, here are four ways you can help your son develop compassion and empathy:
1. Discuss current and global events
Encouraging discussion about global issues and events opens your son’s eyes to the world. Ask your son how he thinks the people in any given situation must feel. Does he relate to those people? Discuss their situation and what others could do to help.
Help your son problem-solve different situations. If your son approaches you about a friendship, school or other dilemma, help him break down the problem and come up with possible solutions. Talk it through, looking at the different angles of the problem and how others may be affected.
3. Model appropriate behaviour
Show your son that you have compassion and empathy for others. Tell them stories about your experiences and discuss your decision-making processes when issues arise.
4. Promote mindfulness
Encourage your son to take time out and think about his day, feelings and experiences. Mindfulness encourages us to be present and understand our thoughts and feelings. It assists in the development of self-awareness, in turn, allowing us to become aware of others.
Above all, be patient. Remember what it was like when you were a child or teenager. There is a lot happening in your son’s world, a lot of learning and a lot of discovery.
Have faith in the fact that your son is surrounded by teachers and staff that will support and encourage him to develop compassion and empathy for others.
For over a century Trinity has guided boys to grow in mind, body and spirit. Fueled by a pastorally aware culture with exceptionally high levels of individual student attention, we pride ourselves on knowing, understanding and nurturing every student.
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