Empathy in the Classroom
My son's preschool teacher prevented a major meltdown the other
day; it was a beautiful thing to watch.
Two three-year-olds wanted the same toy truck. When she saw them
angrily grab for it, she dropped to their level and gently touched
their arms to get their attention. "Guys," she calmly said, "looks
like you both are interested in this truck. What should we do?" She
looked at them with quiet expectation, because she knew they'd come
up with a solution. One boy said, "Let's get another truck!" The
other boy said, "Yeah!" And they ran off to play with their two
That's my kind of classroom! The teacher made this child-driven
solution possible by applying some very specific research about
empathy, character development and emotional regulation. Those
technical terms can be summed up in one word -Kindness.
Good teachers know how to leverage the positive power of all
their students to create a family-like community. They create
stable, predictable routines so that children can easily follow the
rules. They choose books for circle time that emphasize
turn-taking, patience and fairness. They praise children for
finding creative solutions to problems. They make opportunities for
sharing and caring. In great classrooms, hitting, impatience,
screaming and biting are rare. Creative problem-solving, kindness
and friendliness are common.
Good thing, because kids can't settle down to learn their ABCs
until they can settle their minds and emotions. In fact, major
studies of young children have found that social skills and
emotional regulation at age five predict both social AND academic
success in later life. Emotional regulation and social skills are
the main tasks of learning in early childhood. And those skills
take a lot of practice and guidance from parents and teachers.
Fortunately, there's a growing trend toward including these skills
in the curriculum of preschools. Good preschools understand that
character education with a focus on teaching kindness - is an
essential component of all learning to come.
Kids learn kindness best when it's taught both at home AND
school. Check with your child's teacher for tips on how he or she
is in the classroom. Continue those lessons at home and then share
your family's "Kindness Success Stories" at school. That way, your
kids get a consistent message thateveryonein their world values
their budding social skills. That's kindness multiplied!
Make sure your child's school is informed by The National Association for the
Education of Young Children in creating its program. NAEYC
understands that teachers must create a community of learners a
classroom community that supports, respects and cares for each
other just like a family. That's my kind of classroom!