Teaching Children Empathy Through Role Play

Kids LearningNo one is born inherently empathetic.

This statement plays a major role in understanding how children develop, mainly in terms of cognition. If you closely look at how children perceive and interact with the world, you’ll notice how they’re all about ‘me, myself, and I’. In other words, children are largely egocentric.

According to the writings of developmental biologist Jean Piaget, the stage where children are predominantly egocentric is called the preoperational stage. At this point, a child will react to all similar objects as if they’re the same. For instance, a toddler may look at the moon and see that it’s round. And since the moon is round and the ball he plays with is round, he infers that the moon is a ball.

Such thinking, however, means that a child at this stage has difficulty understanding life from another perspective. Put this concept in a social setting, and things can get heated. This is why empathy is a critical learned skill for a child –one that can be derived from role playing.

Learning to Care By Playing Pretend

Professionals around the world, including those behind Sentosa’s upcoming kids party venue and museum KidZania, are strong believers in the power of role playing in terms of teaching empathy. Children are inherently good with their imagination, able to assume different roles. By playing out these roles, they are exposed to societal archetypes: being the hero or the villain, the leader or the follower, the admired or the hated one, and all others.

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Allison Hendrix, a blogger and mother of two, demonstrated how this concept works. She subjected her children to simple but thought-provoking role play scenarios.

First, she simulated the situation of each of her kids having a broken arm. According to her children, the struggles became immediately apparent: it was tougher to get dressed, do household chores, swim and even play their favourite video games. As a result, the children (in their own words, as well) learned to care and empathise for someone with a broken arm or any other physical disability. This just goes to show that the simplest activities were powerful enough to teach the kids to care.

Empathy And Its Importance In Children’s Development

Experts agree that a strong sense of empathy allows children to learn to decide what’s right for them, while not hurting others or seeking acceptance. Such a skill can allow them to adequately defend against negative peer pressure, which will greatly help them later in life. Furthermore, it has been found that people who care about their peers tend to have better social connections, academic and career performance, and outlook in life, among others — qualities that make them more than ideal members of society.