How Stories, Songs and Rhymes Encourage Empathy

One of the most important skills we can help our children develop is empathy. Empathy is the ability to see, and understand the world from another person’s point of view, and respond in a caring or sensitive manner. Empathy plays a role in our overall emotional intelligence, which is how we identify and manage our own emotions and behaviours, as well as those of others around us. Helping children develop empathy from an early age will mean that they’re better aware of their own emotions, and use this to influence their own actions and behaviour.

Sharing stories, songs, and rhymes is a great way to help children develop empathy. Through stories, we’re able to share in a wide range of human emotions and experience how others are feeling. In Nicola Smee's Funny Face, for example, we gain an insight into one little boy's emotional state and his associated facial expressions. Such a simple story is a great way to introduce young children to the range of emotions they may experience themselves, or see in others. Stories are also important because they give children the chance to experience different situations and think about how they would feel in that situation. They’re a safe space to talk about experiences and feelings and an opportunity to relate them to their own lives. 

Through stories, we’re able to share in a wide range of human emotions and experience how others are feeling

When reading to children, take the time to talk about what is happening in the story. If it’s a toddler or pre-schooler who might be able to answer, then you could ask them questions - can they identify what emotion the character in the story is feeling, or how would they feel in that situation? Just be sure to give them plenty of time to answer. For babies and non-verbal children, you can still help them develop an understanding by describing what is happening and how characters are feeling. Labelling emotions – both in books, and in general conversation, is a really key part of children learning to express their emotions, and finding ways to cope with them.

Songs and rhymes provide another avenue for children to learn about emotions. Songs like ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ or ‘What shall we do with the grumpy pirate’ can help children to identify the faces that go with different emotions through the actions, faces and behaviours are being modelled. As many songs and rhymes involve parents and children looking at each other, this face-to-face interaction also supports good emotional development. When parents and children are tuned in to each other’s facial expressions, they’re developing their non-verbal communication skills and learning how to interpret each other’s facial expressions and emotions.

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and this year’s theme is to spread a little kindness. By showing children empathy and talking about our emotions and other people’s emotions, we're teaching children skills that will stay with them for life. 

If you'd like some information on how you can encourage young children to share a little kindness, take a look at the Place2be website.