After such heartbreaking events in the news this weekend, it makes you think even more about how teach empathy to children. How they can help their friends, give others the benefit of the doubt, and be not just well-behaved but good — it’s a mighty endeavor. Obviously so much goes into raising kind-hearted people, but I think one small thing that can help is reading books that model compassion. Here are five I like…
1. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead. Amos visits his animal friends every day and does the activities they love most (like running races with the tortoise, and sitting quietly with the shy penguin, which I find so sweet). When Amos gets sick, the animals take the bus to his house to return the favor.
2. Days With Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. Cheerful Frog and cantankerous Toad are a funny odd-couple duo, who spend their days playing in their houses and outside. They have such an empathetic way of talking and are always there for each other. (Here’s an example: “Blah,” said Toad. “I feel down in the dumps.” “Why?” asked Frog. “I am thinking about tomorrow,” said Toad. “I am thinking about all of the many things that I will have to do.” “Yes,” said Frog, “tomorrow will be a very hard day for you.”) Bravo for this great illustration of friendship.
3. How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath, Mary Reckmeyer and Maurie J. Manning. A little boy learns that everyone has an invisible bucket above his or her head. When you’re upset, your bucket empties, and when you feel good, your bucket fills up. He tries to help keep his friends’ and relatives’ buckets full.
4. The Empty Pot by Demi. A Chinese emperor gives seeds to all the children, explaining that whoever grows the prettiest flower will be his successor. A little boy named Ping takes care of his seed all year, but nothing grows. Ashamed, Ping returns to the emperor to present his empty pot, and the other children mock him. The emperor reveals that he had given everyone cooked seeds, and Ping’s honesty and courage make him worthy of inheriting the kingdom.
5. My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems. Elephant Gerald is feeling down, and his friend Piggie tries to cheer him up by pretending to be a clown, a cowboy and a robot. What will it take to make the sad elephant happy? Author Mo Willems is a genius at understanding children (we LOVE the Knuffle Bunny books).
Also, I know everyone has different approaches to screen time, but I’ve been continually impressed by the TV show Bubble Guppies. The characters frequently discover that the scary dinosaur who is following them (and freaking them out) actually just wants to be friends, or the terrifying giant who is growling just has a toothache and needs help. Kids learn by example to see things from another person’s perspective and give people the benefit of the doubt.
What about you? I’d love to hear other recommendations…
(Photo by Amanda Jane Jones)