Many young families with babies to 10-year olds were present, eager to listen to a story and talk about empathy. I started the session asking about the difference between sympathy and empathy.
It was easier for some 8-year olds to explain sympathy to me. And then slowly we discussed the concept of empathy. Find out more here. As I explained the various elements of it, even five year olds could relate to it. One child put up its hand to explain how she knew a friend of hers was hurt in the playground the previous day, and how she felt sorry.
Then I told them the story from You’re Safe With Me. We had one avid listener who was fascinated with Mama Elephant and he was so worried why she didn’t appear in every spread in the book. The new animals they had seen in the story – loris and pangolin touched their curiosity. And when I explained about pangolins and how we need to save them – one child remembered and asked about it during the activity time we had.
The hall was full of young children who were fascinated with the story of thunderstorms, thunder, lightning, the hungry river and the loud wind. They actively participated.
And then came the activity. We had Empathy postcards (check out the resources on the Empathy Lab website) and I explained to the children that we are going to make a wish for someone else.
Here are some of the wishes they came up with during the session:
- My Nan, because she needs an operation in her eye and she needs to get better to look after Grandpa.
- My grandpa because he is on a stretcher and he needs to get better.
- My teacher because she spends a lot of time preparing for class.
- My friend – I want her to be my best friend forever.
- I want my friend to have a pedal bike too because I have one.
- I wish for David Attenborough to save more animals
- I wish Donald Trump would not be President.
- I wish Prince Harry a happy honeymoon.
- Joanna, write a new book. (On asking who Joanna was, of course it was J K Rowling! Duh!)
And this one broke my heart – I wish my friend would be nicer to me. I spoke to this little girl and we talked about how she could find out more about why her friend might be rude to her. And maybe she should also say how she feels like, to her friend.
After that wonderful time writing wishes for someone else, they did colouring in and made masks (you can download them here). Towards the end of the session, one child had a tantrum when he had to go home. “I don’t want to go!” he declared. Another came to me and said, “Thank you for the story.” And her little sister, perhaps just four, said, “I loved your story, you made my day.” And she gave me a hug.
It’s my privilege to be able to write and tell stories to children. And when I know I touched a few hearts and helped them to discuss the thoughts behind the stories, it makes all the trouble worth it.
When I write a new story, I might know who might like it or what ingredients should go into it. Even when the book is out there, you don’t know who it’s going to reach. But when it actually connects, the circle is complete and that’s when the book is truly an agent for change.
12th June is celebrated as Empathy Day across the UK. Find out more here and perhaps you will find the time this 12th June,
- to read one of the books from this year’s list,
- share your Empathy inspiring books and
- take one action that reflects empathy.
Follow Empathy Lab on Twitter here. You can follow me on Twitter here and on Instagram here. From now up to 12th June and of course after that, we will be discussing empathy, recommending books and sharing ideas, experiences and more.