Teaching Empathy and Kindness Through...

Teaching Empathy and Kindness Through Children’s Literature

by Susan Huebert
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In school, students learn mathematics, science, and all kinds of other subjects through their classes. Learning qualities like empathy and kindness is more difficult, but reading children’s literature can help.

Empathy and kindness can help people live among others without fighting or harming each other. Kindness is a quality of helping people and treating them well. People who are kind tend to be friendly and gentle, and they try not to hurt others if they can avoid it.

Like kindness, empathy helps people to treat others well. Empathy is the ability to imagine what others feel and to understand their point of view. For example, suppose that a dog ran away. A kind person might help to look for it or help in another way. Someone with empathy would understand the dog owner’s feelings and know the reason for those emotions.

Learning through stories takes thought and work. Some types of writing are straightforward with an obvious meaning. A user manual for a machine, for example, needs to be clear and easy to understand. It can also be very easy to forget. However, literature is different. Some stories are just for entertainment, but many of them have a deeper meaning. Finding that meaning helps readers to learn something that they can remember for years or even their whole lives.

That principle is true of stories that teach qualities like kindness and empathy. Some people naturally have more of these qualities than others have. However, people can learn these qualities if they try. One of the best ways is through literature. Good stories can be powerful tools to teach the kinds of qualities that help people learn the important lessons that they need to know.

Some books teach empathy and kindness quite directly. Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson teaches the importance of these qualities. I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde is another book on that topic.

Other stories teach important qualities less directly. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins features a dinosaur that must learn not to eat people. It Will Be OK by Liza Katzenberger tells the story of a zebra and a giraffe that learn the importance of empathy. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf tells of a gentle bull who likes to smell flowers instead of fighting. When people need to learn through example, stories like these ones can help to make the benefits of empathy and kindness real to readers.

Longer books for older readers can also teach principles like empathy and kindness. Websites such as Book Riot and Imagination Soup give suggestions of chapter books that help students understand more about life. For example, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson helps readers to understand friendship and loss. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai is about a refugee from the Vietnam War who struggles with loneliness and bullying as she tries to settle into life in the United States.

Almost any well-written novel or picture book can help teach empathy and kindness. In the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis created a vast array of deep characters who are either good or bad examples of kindness and empathy. Other novels can help students understand these qualities better.

Stories can be memorable an instructive for people who look beyond the surface to see the meaning in the characters’ actions. For teaching qualities like empathy and kindness, children’s literature is ideal.



Bologna, Caroline. “35 Children’s Books That Teach Empathy and Kindness.” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/childrens-books-empathy-kindness_l_5d52e7b1e4b0c63bcbee2699.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. “How to Use Stories to Help Kids Develop Empathy.” https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-families/develop-empathy.

Reynolds, Emily. “Why Teach Empathy?” https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/why-teach-empathy.

Teaching Expertise. “40 Impactful Children’s Books about Empathy.” https://www.teachingexpertise.com/classroom-ideas/childrens-books-about-empathy/.

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