It is comforting for book lovers to hear about the recent studies in Canada demonstrating that reading fiction offers surprising benefits for human development, including an increase in empathy. As well, fiction readers apparently become more comfortable with uncertainty and their decision-making ability improves.
Many people steer children into “beneficial” non-fiction reading material to encourage them to learn about, say, how a farm produces goods to take to market. However, a fictional story about a child who lives on a farm will not only teach something about the practical side of farming, but will also teach the reader what it feels like to live on a farm and the difficulties and benefits of a farming lifestyle as revealed by the fictional child. That is beneficial, too.
Your Child May Show Little Sympathy for Others
It is alarming for parents to realize that their child demonstrates very little sympathy and understanding of other people’s feelings. As a child moves through the toddler and the young child stage, parents do their best to socialize him and teach him to follow the rules: “Don’t take toys away from others.” “Share.” “Take turns.” “Don’t bite, kick, or hurt other people.” But does the child understand why?
You may discover that even though he follows “rules,” the reasoning behind them eludes him. He doesn’t want to be punished or have people angry with him for breaking the rules, and that may be his sole reason for obeying them. In other words, he learns what he must do to get along and to be accepted, but doesn’t sympathize with other children who suffer, are treated unfairly, or who are punished or humiliated.
If your child doesn’t really feel empathy and obeys rules only because he wants to avoid punishment, how old does he have to be to learn how to break the rules and not get caught? What will he do when he realizes he can do that? That’s not too difficult to figure out!
Lack of Empathy Fosters Bullying
It’s very upsetting if you learn that your child has bullied someone – it’s as bad as if you learn that your child is being bullied. How can you help your child feel empathy and to care about the feelings of others so that he doesn’t engage in such behavior?
- One way is to teach him very early to notice when others are hurt: “Look at Sara crying. You hurt her, and you know how much you hate it when someone hurts you.”
- Another way is to introduce him to fiction—the younger, the better. When reading fiction, a child hears another person’s thoughts, and can relate to pain, fear, anxiety, and grief, as well as positive emotions that someone else experiences.
The two recent Canadian studies give us hope for teaching children how to care about others: “These studies show the importance of literature as a developmental tool for better thinking and better empathy,” said Maja Djikic, lead author of the studies. She adds that for literature lovers, “This is the equivalent of finding out that ice cream is healthy.”
Recent studies in the USA found that the rate of reading for fun decreases from 48% at ages six to eight down to just 24% for teens 15 to 17—the ages at which bullying is most prevalent.
So there you have it. Help teach your children to become more empathetic by making them aware of the feelings of others and by encouraging them to read fiction.
In Someone’s Trapped, volume two in the series of Viking Club Mysteries—available in late fall—one of the main characters, Chris, has to deal with the problem of being bullied by his own soccer teammates. At the same time, he helps solve another mystery with his friends Rebecca and Jaylon, who are struggling with their own personal issues.
Your child may also enjoy Something’s Missing, the first book in this sports-mystery series in paperback at Amazon.com, and at this Amazon.ca link, as well as at Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores. The Kindle version is available at Amazon.com, click here, or at Amazon.ca at this link.
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