Teaching Empathy to Children with Blindness or Low Vision
Have you ever considered the value of empathy? We think through the words or actions we are about to impart and consider how our suggestion or contribution will be taken. It’s the reason we know how to treat others; it allows us to know what not to say, and it allows us to contemplate how to present ourselves during a job interview, at a work meeting, in a recreational club, to a customer, or to a potential friend.
It takes empathy, understanding the feelings of others, to build successful relationships.
A sighted child begins to gather information about others’ feelings after understanding their feelings and identifying similar feelings in others by observing facial expressions. A child who is blind or low vision will need to be taught to identify their own feelings, to understand others have feelings that differ from their own feelings, and to recognize one’s words and actions can alter others’ feelings.
Empathy typically emerges in preschoolers and young grade schoolers, yet its intentional instruction should begin in babies and toddlers.
- Help the child understand their own feelings across a variety of circumstances (“You fell down and bumped your knee. That hurts. I will hold and comfort you.”), because empathy develops after identifying one’s own feelings.
- Repeatedly describe your positive, negative, and neutral emotions to your child in a variety of circumstances
- Point out other’s feelings as you notice them.
- Ask others to describe their feelings to your child.
- Discuss how your child affected the feelings of another (“When you hit Maggie, she seemed scared and hurt. She cried.”)
- Prompt your older toddler to consider how a friend or sibling feels (“How do you feel when you fall down and get a boo-boo? That’s how Lamar feels too. He hurts.”)
- Coach your child to listen to tone of voice (“Grammy sounds excited! She is smiling. I can hear the happiness in her voice.”)
- Tell stories or read books that involve a character describing emotions.
- Use pretend play to highlight emotions.
- Provide your child with feedback on positive and negative social encounters (“When you said hi to our new friend, he smiled. Thank you for helping him feel welcome.”)
- Explain why we dress or act in a certain way (“We can’t talk now because John is speaking. Others are trying to listen.”)