Kids & Empathy

The word empathy seems to be everywhere.  It’s the ability to step into another person’s shoes and understand what they are experiencing.  Empathy allows us to have compassion for others and build social connections. It drives us to take action to relieve another person’s suffering. Empathy is at the root of a person’s ability to be kind and compassionate, and helps us gain a better understanding of the world around us.

I recently witnessed a wonderful act of empathy.

While on vacation, two brothers noticed an elderly man sitting alone on a park bench.   They were told that this man sits alone on this bench everyday waving to the cars and people that pass by, sometimes for hours at a time.  The boys took notice of how lonely he seemed and asked if they could stop and sit down with him.  They wanted to keep him company and help him feel less lonely. They made this gesture out of kindness, compassion, and empathy, and made the elderly man’s day a bit brighter.  These brothers were able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand that person’s emotions and feelings. 

Acts of empathy like this are at the core of the Iroquois Springs experience.  There is no better place than camp to learn and practice skills of kindness, compassion, understanding, and respect. And there is nothing more important at camp than practicing empathy in our camp community.  In a world of constant selfies and disconnect, it’s more important than ever for camps to teach empathy and thoughtfulness toward others. Camp is one of the few settings that has the advantage of being “unplugged”, not having to compete with today’s technology that distracts us from connecting with others. 

The camp environment helps kids get their emotional needs met by having supportive staff and role models that are present, kind, and thoughtful.  Research shows that the more children receive empathy, the more likely they are to offer it to others.  Camp encourages kids to help out, care for others, and explore the world beyond themselves.  Campers engage in cooperative activities that inspire them to consider other’s perspectives.  When we understand the perspective of others, not only do we build healthy relationships, but we also become effective leaders and problem solvers. 

Empathy is important at camp because it allows a group of bunkmates, who may have different life experiences and ideas, to understand and respect one another with compassion.  It fosters healthy relationships, effective teamwork and strong friendships throughout the summer and beyond.  Studies show that empathic adults have higher levels of overall happiness, more satisfying relationships, lower levels of stress, and better abilities to deal with conflicts. Iroquois Springs campers definitely have a leg up when it comes to treating others with kindness and compassion, and developing the essential life skill of empathy. 

Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another. -Alfred Adler.