Exploring Empathy at Valentine’s Day
Nobody is entirely sure who the real St. Valentine was – we can say with certainty that he lived in Rome at a time that’s a few centuries shy of being two millennia ago. With an existence that’s now so long ago and far away, it’s no wonder that the true story of St. Valentine has gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere. Whatever the origins of our modern love-centric Valentine’s Day are, the holiday brings about the opportunity for a mid-winter outpouring of love, friendship and appreciation toward those around us. While the early winter holiday season is a time for sharing and caring, Valentine’s Day allows us to emerge from the doldrums of winter ready to consider others in a new light: looking upon those around us with empathy and offering them support – or at the very least, learning to do so.
This Valentine’s Day, families can promote social and emotional growth in children of all ages by working together to understand the concept and practice of empathy. Defined as the ability to to understand and share the feelings of another, empathy is uniquely different from sympathy in that the practice of it doesn’t require feelings of pity and sorrow – simply understanding. Exploring empathy and the many ways in which to show it can help children of all ages deepen their understanding of those around them and improve the ways in which they connect with family, friends, neighbors, and community members – thus supporting them in the development of age-appropriate social and emotional skills.
As the understanding and practice of empathy is different at every age, Valentine’s Day-inspired explorations of empathy will be different for every family. For resources to support empathy education with children of all ages, families can look to Teaching Tolerance, which offers versions of lessons on developing empathy written to meet learners where they’re at. The youngest of newly-empathetic folks will explore the ways in which the emotions of others are made clear through facial expressions, while teens will recall times when they needed those around them to practice empathy towards them in order to deepen their understanding of an empathetic mindset – and those in between are offered similar yet developmentally appropriate explorations of empathy as well.
So what does all this have to do with Valentine’s Day? Well, considering it’s a holiday generally reserved for sharing the love that we have for those around us, families can use the upcoming holiday as an opportunity to extend something greater than love to those around them – the practice of empathy. For those close to you, empathetic Valentine’s Day offerings might mean letting others know the ways in which you feel you understand their needs and making a point to be supportive, caring, friendly, or kind; or it might be enough for children to simply let others know that they’ve learned about empathy and want to share it with them, ensuring those for whom they care that the practice will continue to appear as necessary in the future.
Valentine’s Day empathy can also be shown to those a bit further removed from local families. This year’s 9th Annual Handmade Valentine Swap presents families with the opportunity to share their empathetic existence with other local community members. While the practice of extending empathy to true strangers is tricky (how can you truly understanding someone you’ve never seen before?), it’s important to remember that some feelings are universal and will be experienced by all humans at some time. By sharing kindness and love with another whose life experiences are unknown, the seeds of empathy can be sown (literally and figuratively – there may be a creative valentine idea in that concept!).