One of the reasons kids can say and do hurtful things to each other is because they have no empathy for the other person. They don’t know how to put themselves in the place of someone else and realize how hurtful their words and actions could be to them. Or they can’t understand why everyone doesn’t like the same things they do. “Different” to many young people means bad, because what they like is “normal” and therefore great in comparison to anyone who differs from them.
As Christians, it is vital to learn to be empathetic. It falls under the “love others as we love ourselves” command. If young people don’t develop empathy, they won’t love anyone different from them enough to serve them or share their faith with them.
So what are some ways to help your students begin to develop more empathy for others? Here are a few of my favorites.
- Bible Stories and Scriptures. Talk about the Good Samaritan and other stories where someone had to have empathy in order for another person to be helped. Quite a few of the miracles of Jesus even mention he had empathy for the person or people. Share verses about loving others, serving them or sharing God’s Words with them.
- Walking in Their Shoes – Bring in footwear of those being served. Have volunteers discuss how they imagine the person wearing those shoes experiences life. What happens during their day? What problems do they experience? What brings them joy? Encourage volunteers to seek to understand those they are serving and see how valid their perceptions were.
- A Day in the Life – Have volunteers complete the “Day in the Life” worksheet with what they can learn from research and/or their perceptions. During their volunteer project, encourage them to determine if their conclusions were accurate.
- Anchor Chart – Although anchor charts are generally used with children, they can also work with older groups. Take one very large sheet of paper or have each individual create their own. Have volunteers place pictures and/or words describing life and faith for those they will serve. Words can be based on research and/or perceptions. Have volunteers adjust their charts as needed during their service. Discuss the original ideas and the changes made.
- Could I Do It? –
- Give volunteers the average weekly or monthly “income” of the people they will serve. Have them use ads to attempt to find housing, food, etc. on their “budget”. How hard is it to meet essential needs?
- Take volunteers to the market. Have them buy enough food to feed their “family” nutritiously on their “budget”. Food purchased can be donated to those in need.
- Have volunteers carry an average water container or participate in an activity that makes daily life challenging for those they serve.
- A Day Without – Have volunteers go a day without a felt need of the people they are about to serve. What happens when the volunteers go without shoes, coats, food or some other felt need for a day? What if they had to go without for a week, a month, or a year? How would they feel compared to their current life where they possess the item(s) every day? What new problems would they have? How would it impact their faith?
- Empathy Building Books – Have volunteers read and discuss books written by someone who lived in/with the same circumstances as those to be served. During their service, have volunteers discover how life is similar or different from that of the author.
It takes time for young people to develop empathy, so revisit the topic more than once. Try different activities, as some will touch some children more than others. Helping your students develop empathy for others is a crucial building block in their faith foundation. It’s worth your time and effort.