Empathy means putting ourselves in the shoes of others and knowing how they feel. Some schools of psychology believe that children are not equipped to empathize well until around the age of 14 (though others feel there simply hasn’t been enough done to cultivate empathy at younger ages).
We are working with a perfect age group to cultivate the art of empathy, which may work for students in the present and will certainly help guide them to greater happiness in the future.
This teen lesson uses relaxed imagination and meditation to put kids in the shoes of others.
**What the teacher says out loud is in bold**
Have everyone either lie on the floor or put their heads down on the table and get very comfortable. Have them shut their eyes.
I’m going to take you on a journey…you’re going to become someone other than yourself for a few minutes. It’s up to you to decide whether this is a person you would want to be, and that isn’t even the main point. The point is to use your imagination to totally become this person if you can.
Picture this: You are walking down the corridor in school where your locker is. You are around 4’11”, not the height you are now. So adjust your vision so that you are looking at everyone’s chest…or whatever. You are shy. Your tendency is to look down, not up. People pass you by, talking to each other loudly. They don’t see you. They bang into you a lot. You’re used to it. You don’t bother to correct big, loud, strong people who step on your feet or almost knock your books out of your arms.
You’re shy for lots of reasons. Your mother never cleans up the house. She watches TV all day as the mess grows around her. You keep telling yourself that you should clean it up. Your mom has a blood disorder that probably won’t kill her, but it got her out of work and now she just gets disability checks that you and her have to live on. You also sense that your mom’s self-esteem has more to do with the mountains of stuff than her illness does. You wonder secretly why she won’t get up and do something for herself.
You’ve tried cleaning up, but you feel betrayed. You feel she is letting you down and not caring. And regardless, it is almost impossible to have friends in here. You’ve had one friend over sometimes who understands, but even she agrees that most people would not. You’ve taken your mom’s lack of confidence into school. You just want to get by without any problems.
Another reason you are shy—skin problems. There’s always something swollen that hurts, right in the middle of your face somewhere. It’s always throbbing, sore to the touch, so you’re always aware. Other kids—with better families or more power—get to go to a dermatologist.
But your mother’s never even brought it up and there’s no way to pay that you know of. [end imagining]
Give me some words to describe how you feel. Awful, lonely, discouraged…
Add on your own details…ones I haven’t talked about. Like what she’s wearing… what color her hair is… how heavy are the books she’s carrying… who bangs into her. Then give me more words to describe how you feel. Let them continue.
Note: As this is a pretty difficult exercise, you will most likely get one prankster who makes a wise crack to break the tension, and everyone will laugh. Don’t laugh, and discourage the joker. Tell them this is important and give some more details to swing them back into it.
Did you know that this person exists in your school?
That’s because she exists in every school. In your school, she may not be as short. She may not have skin problems, but she’s got other things that plague her all day—things others never stop to think about. Some may have had the passing thought that they’re glad they’re not her. But that’s it. Nobody’s heart ever went out. It’s just not their problem.
When you have become this person…when you walk around a little bit in her shoes…how would you like others to treat you? What would make a difference in your life? To be smiled at and talked to and included in some things. To feel connected and not ashamed of your home.
Can you think of someone in your school who might be feeling the bad feelings you first mentioned? Don’t say the person’s name out loud. Just focus on him or her. Put yourselves in that person’s shoes for a minute, just taking a walk down the corridor in school. Give them a minute to focus.
Now that you have walked in that person’s shoes, how will you treat that person differently after this? If anyone wants to answer, allow them to.
Becoming a person of empathy is a sign of Christian maturity. If you can put yourselves in the shoes of others, you are halfway to fulfilling the Golden Rule at all times in your life.
Next week, come back to learn about the second part of this teen lesson, which involves a small group discussion and handout. Meanwhile, head over to my Facebook page for even more Bible lessons, crafts, and snacks!