“Empathy: The ability to identify with or understand another’s situation or feelings. The Free Dictionary.”
Empathy is our capacity to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to know how they’re feeling and then to use that understanding to guide our actions. And it’s a vital skill every child should learn.
“The brain development of babies has deep implications for society. A human being without a properly developed social brain finds it very difficult to empathise with other human beings. This can pose risks along a spectrum from a lack of emotional resilience leading to depression or general unhappiness, to antisocial behaviour, drug-taking, and criminality, and at the most extreme end to psychotic behaviour.” Andrea Leadsom.
How reading helps.
Humans are hardwired to listen to stories. Our brain loves them. They help us make sense of the world and our experiences. A good story can make us laugh or cry. We put ourselves in the protagonists shoes, feeling their pain or their happiness as if it was our own. We are emotionally transported into the story.
Psychologist Dr. Raymond Mar has shown that children begin to understand that other people have thoughts and feelings that are different from their own between the ages of three and five. Reading stories and talking about the behaviour of characters in books is a non-threatening way to help children sort out the rights and wrongs of their experiences.Reading is a way of thinking with another person's mind: it forces you to stretch your own. Charles Schribner Jnr. Click To Tweet
And it’s not just speculation. One study by neuroscientist Gregory Berns, showed MRi scans of people had heightened connectivity in the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language after reading a passage of a novel.
“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” Berns says. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”
Disturbingly, watching TV has the opposite effect, with children exposed to lots of television performing worse in theory of mind tests.Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another ... and feeling with the heart of another. Alfred Adler Click To Tweet
Some books about empathy.
And some books to share with your baby.
Whatever you do, make sure you read with your baby. There is no down-side.