Over the past few weeks, our students have been learning about empathy. In a world where many people are quick to judge, react without thinking, and argue their points without truly listening to their opponents, empathy is needed more than ever. In the schools we serve, our kids are reactive and often resort to fight or flight when faced with conflict. But what if we could teach kids to stop, take a pause, and consider WHY a bully targeted him/her? Or help them see that they have more in common with their peers than they ever thought? Or teach them to really take a walk in someone else’s shoes, and see what their friend or foe’s world is really about?

The last few weeks, we’ve been doing just that…taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. Through videos, talk backs, and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) games, we’ve been teaching our students about the hidden struggles everyone faces and how empathy can bring us together. This helped them to connect with each other, learn the “whys” behind some of bad behavior of their peers, and learn how their own actions can greatly affect those around them.

One exercise was truly powerful in helping our students learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Students were tasked with decorating a stencil of a cool sneaker; on the back, they were tasked with writing five facts that no one knew about them. They could write about their home life, their private thoughts, their hopes and dreams, etc. One child wrote how she is, “smiley on the outside, but mad on the inside”; one child wrote about how she “felt like she was no good at anything” and often thought about hurting herself; another wrote how it’s challenging helping her mom take care of her younger siblings. Many of the students learned that they had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as their peers. Realizing the hidden struggles of others helped our kids learn how to be more empathetic toward those around them.

They also learned about the “bystander effect,” which is the idea that individuals are less likely to offer help to someone in need when other people are present; the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that one of them will help. Check out this cool video. We brainstormed times in our lives when we were too afraid to help and ways we can step in to help someone, even if it’s uncomfortable.

At DMF Youth, we are on a crusade to help our students embrace kindness and empathy every single day, helping them build trust, respect, and meaningful connections with the peers and adults in their lives. As Barack Obama once said, “Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”