A book is one of the greatest tools we have as moms for teaching our kids about the world around them. Developmental experts and neuroscientists agree that developing empathy through reading is not only effective but also highly necessary as electronics pose a threat to the development of this important skill. By following a story, children can learn to put themselves in another person’ situation, which directly helps the child build empathy as a result. Studies of the brain have shown that immersing in a book, taps into the same brain networks as real-life experience. Because the brain is unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what is fiction, the same areas of the brain are activated by following a story than having the experience in real life. This can improve the reader’s ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes and flex the imagination, both crucial for the development of empathy.
People who have empathy connect with others at a deeper level, and are usually more helpful and invested in the well-being of others. In a world that is more connected through social media, yet seemingly more polarized, developing empathy through reading is one of the ways we can contribute, as moms, in the building of a better society.
Empathy is the power or ability to identify with another’s feelings, thoughts, situation, etc. as if they were one’s own. Helping kids acquire this important skill is more important than ever if we want to raise the adults our world needs.
Developing empathy through reading is not complex, and it can be done easily and consistently by following these 3 simple steps:
- Choose the right stories. Although for academic purposes it doesn’t matter what kind of books your kids are reading if your goal is developing empathy through reading it is best to pick stories in which the character is experiencing or has experienced hardship or loss, has a moral dilemma or is in trouble for some reason.
- Ask the right questions. Encouraging your kids to see themselves in the position of the characters is key to developing empathy. So, asking them “what if that was you?,” “how would you feel?,” and “What would you do?”. As important as those questions are, it is also vital to ask the child to think about the character itself: “How do you think they feel?,” “What do you think they need?,” “How do you think this affects him/her?”. These questions are going to help your children experience the story in a deeper manner and that will translate to the way they relate to others.
- Share your POV. The third step is to show your children that you empathize with the characters and relate to the story. After hearing what the kids have to say, tell them what you think, how the story touched you and the way you see yourself in it.
Developing Empathy Through Reading Luisito’s Island
Reading offers many benefits to the development of children and books that can engage the little ones in a fun way, help kids open up and feel safe while following a character and learning from it in situations that are different than their own reality, which is helpful to build empathy.
Picture books in particular help introduce, in vibrant colors, culture, people, places that they don’t know, making them accessible to young readers and helping them understand and visualize them better. That’s why the book Luisito’s Island, by my dear friend and colleague Maritere Rodríguez-Bellas, is a great book for developing empathy through reading, especially in the face of a natural disaster like the hurricane in Puerto Rico.
Reading together is going to help kids learn about where is the island located in relationship to where they live. It gives parents an opportunity to help kids understand what hurricanes are and how weather works, and the likelihood of them being impacted by them. The story is great to open a conversation about natural disasters in general and the feelings when something like that happens.
Luisito’s Island is a sweet book that touches a delicate topic in a developmentally appropriate manner, helping children learn about all of the wonderful things you can find in Puerto Rico while addressing the reality of many children that had to leave the island due to the storm and miss the life they had there.
When the kids saw that Luisito seemed sad, they asked him about why he was feeling like that and he told them how he is missing his home in Puerto Rico, and then tells them in detail the things he loves about his beautiful island.
My children loved reading Luisito’s Island as they enjoyed reading about some of the things Luisito shared with his friends. It is a story I recommend you read with your kids, whether your family is Latino or not. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, and the opportunity for children of all backgrounds to learn about it and imagine what it is like for kids who experience the hurricane is a great opportunity to broaden their perspective.
The book is a partnership with Read Conmigo, a program which provides free bilingual books and activities for children. You can download Luisito’s Island by clicking here; I encourage you to read it along with your kids and share it with your friends and family!
About The Author
Maritere Rodriguez-Bellas is an award-winning author, bilingual and bicultural Latina parenting expert, influencer and features writer who is passionate about family, languages, and cultures. Maritere appears regularly on Spanish language television, where she shares her parenting expertise. In 2018, she was named a Latina of Influence by Hispanic Style and was nominated for a Tecla Award in the parenting category by Hispanicize. Also in 2018, she received a Blog Award in education in Puerto Rico. Maritere’s next project is a series of bilingual children’s book, called Yunito’s Adventures, with the first book coming out in 2019.
Other books by Maritere
Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie
Raising Bilingual Children
About Read Conmigo
Read Conmigo is a bilingual literacy program that provides free children’s books in English and Spanish, educational apps, and literary resources for children in preschool through 5th grade. The program was created in 2010 by Infinity Insurance to provide parents and teachers free tools and resources to help them foster a love of reading among their children and students. Since its launch, Read Conmigo has distributed over 1 million children’s books to families, schools, and libraries nationwide. Today over 160,000 families and educators are part of Read Conmigo.
Have you tried developing empathy through reading with your kids? I’d love to hear!