I’m wondering at what age do kids learn empathy-or understanding what it means to be in someone else’s shoes. Is there a magic time where kids realize that there is a world outside of their own–that other people have up, down, and even sideways moments the same as they do? It’s something I try to define in my classroom, and it’s something that can take ALL my energy. We actually practice manners in the first six weeks–repeating specific complimentary phrases so students who don’t know what to say can have something to say. But, I want to take it a step further and have them realize that not only can they BE NICE to other people, but they can also UNDERSTAND another person’s situation, and even offer comfort if needed. I want this realization for my students, and my own Scroggins Hoodlums. So, therefore, I’m hoping and wondering if I’m doing everything I can to model it for them. They’re always watching, right?
Sometimes I stand back and watch the middle-aged kids mingle in their social situations. I watch their awkward, silly, clumsy, shy, funny, loud, and even callous moments. I cringe when I see a “mean girl moment” or and equally harsh “tough guy moment.” I know these are the growing pains of childhood and adolescence. I know that in my HEAD, but in my heart I really just want to see people being nice to other people. I want them to think of other people’s feelings, and try to understand another person’s perspective. I know teenagers are by definition the center of their own universe, but they do realize that they are PART of a universe, right? And, I’m looking at my own hoodlums who aren’t quite to the teen or even tween stage yet, and wondering if they should know and understand that they too are PART of something more.
As a completely and utterly sappy and sensitive person, I know I probably take this emotion to the extreme, and perhaps am setting the emotional maturity bar a little high for these blossoming grown-ups-in-the-making. I can concede that point, but I don’t think I can concede the importance of noticing, admiring, and even trying on someone else’s shoes–at any age really. Without trying on another pair, how else can you possibly know how well your own shoes fit?