Homeschooling Helps Develop Empathy in Children
© Beverley Paine
Caring how others feel is a bit of two-edged sword and that's why most people seem to shun developing empathy. When we care how others feel and want to help them meet their needs we find these often clash with what we want or need for ourselves. It's a moral minefield - for adults as well as children. I believe we start life with an instinct for justice but it's eroded by life's lessons. As parents we often justify selfishness to our children, sometimes without even being aware of it. A certain amount of 'self'ishness is necessary to develop a strong sense of self identity and to determine who 'I' am within the crowd, or we get lost to peer group pressure from an early age. I feel that is the relative social isolation of young homeschooled children that avoids this dilemma.
With my own children I tried to stick to the Golden Rule... I'd ask them to think about "how I would feel or think if someone acted that way toward me or if it happened to me, right now". I add the 'right now' because it made them place themselves in that other person's place immediately - it was a powerful exercise in imagination. It took time - this isn't something you can do in a moment. It takes longer than telling a child off, or threatening them, or bribing them ("if you be nice you'll be a nice person and people will like you") Sometimes I'd need to take half an hour out of our day to imagine what it would be like in someone else's position.
Where possible I'd include these little imaginative journeys any where in our lives - while going for a walk, driving in the car, playing games together, exploring our backyard or the local community. I felt it was important to develop this ability early.
Sometimes though we get hurt by others and we learn, little by little, to shut down our empathy, to protect ourselves. It takes a great effort to stay vulnerable. From what I've seen and learned though, it's those most willing to stay vulnerable that are the happiest folk in life.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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