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Five Ways of Teaching Students What Empathy Means

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The concepts of empathy and sympathy get jumbled up frequently. In most cases, students often get confused up between the two terms ‘empathy’ and ‘sympathy’. This article will attempt to discuss the explanatory definitions of the terms, the concepts themselves, and their kinds. Additionally, it shall also be throwing some light on the techniques through which a teacher can make their students learn about it.

: A woman touching the shoulder of her upset friend, giving comfort and listening to her.
An individual that reads and listens well expresses a good amount of patience, and in turn, empathy. Representational Image.

What is Empathy?

Empathy simply refers to the ability to acknowledge and understand an individual’s emotional state or situation. In easier words, empathizing can be explained as considering things from someone else’s perspective and mental state. For instance, an individual empathizes with someone when they try to put their feet in the individual’s shoes. It is primarily the sense or feeling that one gets after imagining themselves in someone else’s circumstances or situation through which they are going through.

Types of Empathy

The concept of empathy has been categorized into three types– affective, somatic, and cognitive empathy. An individual may experience any kind from the three mentioned. Considering the fundamentals of psychology, a person may or may not experience more than one type of empathy at a single point in time. This indirectly depends on the situation, circumstances, and state.

  • Affective Empathy: An individual develops an affective kind of attribute after understanding the fellow person’s emotion. For instance, a person may develop its feeling after getting related to the situation itself.
  • Somatic Empathy: This type involves the occurrence of a physical reaction in the response. The most relevant instance is of identical twins as they report understanding the pain when the other suffers.
  • Cognitive Empathy: Also known as the theory of mind, it involves the ability to relate with the fellow individual’s mental state. It is also known as ‘perspective-taking’.

Empathy v/s Sympathy

As discussed earlier in the blog, the term simply refers to acknowledging, understanding, and experiencing someone else’s situation. Whereas, on the other hand, sympathy is a slightly distinguished concept of human behavior. We sympathize by participating in someone’s emotional situation for their adversity, mischance, or mishap. Therefore, sympathizing and empathizing both are very different concepts that are misconnected very often.

Illustration of a helping hand reaching out for a crying person.
Personal, deep, and one-to-one talk with a student about their situations may build the feeling of empathy. Representational Image.

Identifying an Empathetic Student

There are a few signs and points to consider that helps to identify the ability of empathy in an individual. One can very easily recognize an empathetic person by considering the below points.

  • A Good Reader & Listener: An individual that reads and listens well expresses a good amount of patience. According to a few theories, patient individuals are more likely to be empathetic.
  • Communication: Communicational skills play a very essential role in the overall behavioural attributes of a student. Generally, students with good communicational skills develop the ability to empathize.
  •  People Share Things: Anyone would like to share personal situations only with the person he/she believes in. When people come to an individual to share things, it indirectly refers that the individual is empathetic.
  • Advisory Behavior: On the other hand, the ability can also be identified in an individual if we can spot other people approaching him/her for taking advice.
  • A Nature of Help: Helpfulness is the major element that helps in identifying the empathetic behaviour in a person. An empathetic person always tries to approach people who require help.

 How to Measure Empathy

It is an essential attribute of human behaviour has the person has to identify, acknowledge, and understand the fellow person’s emotions. The major reason why empathy is considered an important ability is that it supports us to respond appropriately.

The most reliable, efficient, and effective methodology to measure it in students is the Questionnaire for Cognitive & Affective Empathy (QCAE).  This assessment focuses on measuring the ability adequately. Another assessment to measure this ability is the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI).

Teaching Students What Empathy Means

Teaching students about the ability to empathize is a very essential lesson. Students should surely be aware of empathy, sympathy, and other vital attributes of human behaviour. It is vital to cultivate and nurture it before a certain age (before or during adolescence) in students.

  • Personalized Conversations: Going ahead with a personal, deep, and one-to-one talk with a student about the situations that may build the feeling of empathy turned out to be a good idea for many teachers. This kind of personalized conversation may not be possible in a classroom of 45+ students. New era education which should be a blend of both formal and value education can take place through online schools too.
  • Empathy with Peers: Teachers may have to encourage the ability in the peer groups of the students. Again, a conversation is the right key to this. A group discussion with the students about the arising issues in their peer group is a step to be taken.
  • Development of Interpersonal Skills: Developing the interpersonal skills of the students will automatically result out in gaining the ability. The interpersonal skills of a student can help him/her to understand others more appropriately.
  • Encouraging Intra-Personal Conversation: As rightly said, “Talking to ourselves is always termed as the best communication”. Teachers may encourage the students to ask relevant questions from the self and find the answers.
  • Teaching Identification of Feelings: Last but not the least, teaching the students how to identify what a person is feeling at a particular moment is also a great stratagem to cultivate it.

The development of such attributes will ultimately help the students, in the long run, to succeed in their school, university, and professional life. Educational institutions often focus more on the academic perspective of education. Nevertheless, lessons like these are often missed in the curriculum of the students. Therefore, we should always consider teaching out-of-the-box skills that result in a very positive outcome.

You must be to comment.
  1. Aditya Ahuja

    I want to know more about how to measure empathy in students, how is Interpersonal Reactivity Index defined?

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