“Empathy” by Arpan.

Empathy is the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and/or emotional state. Often we use the phrase “to put yourself in the other person’s shoes” when we talk about empathy. Thus it implies feeling with and not for the person. While empathizing (at some level) comes naturally to most people it is a skill that can be developed like most other interpersonal skills.

A lack of empathy results in what we are currently seeing in our society – the lack of respect, understanding and compassion for what the other person goes through. Thus we are experiencing increasing instances of sexual assault of children and women; one of the contributing factors is the lack of empathy on the part of the offenders as well as the silent and inactive bystanders towards the victim.

People need to be taught empathy at a young age so that they can internalize this value. As parents and care-givers the most important skill that we can teach our children is empathy. A strong sense of empathy allows children to make decisions that are right for them without hurting others or seeking approval or acceptance. Parents are our first teachers and hence they play a key role in teaching children the skills of empathy.

Empathy is closely linked with feelings or emotions. Identifying and labeling emotions is important in order to empathize with others. As part of our preventive program (Personal Safety Education) in schools and the community at large, we teach children this important skill of empathy. Children from the tender age of six years are introduced to its importance and are taught that feelings/emotions are universal and therefore people all over the world experience different emotions and express it with the same bodily reactions as we do.

At Arpan, children are taught that they must treat others the way they would want to be treated. The Arpan facilitators are trained to ask the children pertinent questions and use other relevant media such as role plays, stories, etc to help them understand and internalise the key messages on empathy.

For instance, trainers ask children how will small children feel if you hit them?; how will your classmate who is not good looking feel if you tease him/her?; if  I take away your water bottle without asking you how will you feel? In the same way, if you take away your friends’ things without their permission, how would they feel?

Parents and care-givers can also instill in their children empathy by helping them identify and name emotions, validating the emotions children feel, as well as providing emotional support and affection to them. Teaching can help build empathy in children, but even more important is for adult caregivers to be empathetic themselves. Parents can model empathy in their relationship with other people; and children will learn by observing and emulating their parents. Adult caregivers can also use day-to-day situations to sensitize and make their children empathetic towards others.

For instance, if your child comes from play having fought or bullied other children ask your child how he/she would have felt if someone had to do the same with them. Explain to them that – “just as we feel upset or sad when someone hits or teases us, in the same way, when we hit others they also feel sad, angry and scared. It is, therefore, important that we must treat others the same way that we would like them to treat us. That means we must empathize with others. Before we say or do anything to others we must think about how we will feel if someone says or does the same thing to us. Always treat others the way you want to be treated.”

If we as adult caregivers bring about a change at an individual level by teaching our children to be empathetic, only then can we hope that there will be a greater positive change in the country.

Arpan is a registered organization based in Mumbai with a mission to Prevent the occurrence of Child Sexual Abuse and heal those who have been affected by it.
With passion and conviction and a trained team of dedicated professionals; clinical and counselling psychologists Arpan began working on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in year 2006. Today Arpan works in a focused manner only on CSA. We are thankful for their continued support in this initiative. (Need to source logo)

Site Url: http://www.arpan.org.in/