Build Empathy With Books

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Build Empathy With Books

BY SARAH PARKER RUBIO

One gray day while I listened to yet another heart-breaking radio segment about families being forced to flee their homes, I thought about how that could have been my family if we’d been born somewhere else. I wondered how I could teach my own boys about children like them who are facing loss and crisis in a way that inspired empathy and compassion rather than fear and confusion. That inspired my upcoming release, Far from Home: A Story of Loss, Refuge, and Hope, which follows a little boy who is forced to leave everything that’s familiar but finds comfort in an unlikely place.

We all want the kids we love to grow into empathetic human beings, and we know that it doesn’t happen by accident. I believe one of the most effective and fun ways to cultivate selflessness is through reading.

  1. Read your grandkids books that reflect them and their experiences.

This might seem like a strange place to start when your goal is to help children think of themselves less and others more. But it’s a lot easier for kids (and adults!) to value others when they feel valued themselves. All children need “windows and mirrors”—books that reflect them AND books that let them glimpse different experiences.

My bilingual children love books that are written in both the languages we speak at home. Also, get specific about what the kids in your life are dealing with right now. Conflict with friends? A challenge in academics or sports? A change in routine? Kids who are adept at identifying their own feelings will be better at thinking about the feelings of others.

  1. Read your grandkids books that reflect experiences different from their own.

Look for books that depict cultures and experiences that differ from your family’s (remember that this can mean not just race/ethnicity but ability, family dynamics, etc.). Also look for books that simply center children of different races, abilities, etc. doing things that all children do. Also, make sure you’re including books written and/or illustrated by authors who share the experience of their main character.

  1. Talk about what you’re reading.

Every now and then you can spark a great conversation by asking a simple question about what you’ve just read. I like to ask my kids, “How do you think that character felt when ____________? Have you ever felt that way?”

Through the wonder of reading, we can travel all over worlds real and imagined. We can travel to the future or the past. And we can peek into the minds and hearts of people very different from us and discover how we’re the same. Happy reading!

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