Theme: Identifying Feelings, Empathy, Caring and Kindness
Recommended Ages: 2nd Grade +
Goals: Define empathy.
To learn how to articulate an empathetic response.
To understand what it means to help someone in a difficult situation.
Various styles of shoes
Supplementary props (optional)
Prepare the shoe boxes in advance. Group leaders are only limited by their imagination. The nearby illustrations are some examples of what might go inside the shoe boxes and what text might accompany each box. If working one on one with a client, the counselor may choose to create a box with the client.
The activity begins with participants anonymously writing down their fears on a piece of paper. The fears are placed in a bucket and then as a group, we discuss some of the fears that we have by randomly drawing from the bucket. Over the course of the discussing a definition of empathy is introduced: understanding how others may feel in a given situation, or “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” We may never fully understand how another person is feeling because we all have differences from one another, but trying to understand each other is important. During the discussion the group leader may also want to note that we can often tell how someone is feeling by using the cues they give us, such as their facial expressions and body language. We may also want to ask ourselves, “how would I feel if that was me?”
Following the discussion participants literally put themselves in someone else’s shoes. One by one the shoe boxes are presented. Inside each box is a pair of shoes, along with some accessories to complete the look. Under the lid of each shoe box is a description of the person who wears those shoes, and a tragic life event that they were currently facing. Children are encouraged to “put themselves in that person’s shoes. Discussion should occur throughout the activity through the utilization of follow-up questions to each individual scenario. Each empathy based story should include questions such as “How do you think he/she feels?” “What could you do to help” “What is something you could say to him/her?” Encourage participants to use empathetic responses with correct terminology when discussion each shoe box.
If time permits group leaders may also want to role play the sharing of empathy in situations proposed by the participants, or that were part of the discussion at the beginning of the activity. Participants can be prompted to say, “You must feel ______.” This is a great culminating activity that helps the participants cement what exactly we mean when we talk about empathy. Plus, it reinforces the experience and definition of empathy, making it more likely for the participants will be able to respond with empathy in the future.
An important aspect of emotional competence is the ability to show empathy. Young people are often quick to judge one another and use vulnerabilities against peers, all while trying to keep their own vulnerabilities disguised. During this activity special emphasis should be placed on the varying ages of the mock scenarios. Participants should be led into a discussion focused on the fact that age equivalencies or discrepancies do not affect our potential to be empathetic to someone. Empathy can be shown to anyone, regardless of age.
It is very helpful for participants to see that they are not the only ones with a given fear. It was also good for participants to take the time to think about how someone else would feel if they came in contact with their greatest fear. By acknowledging someone’s feelings participants are learning to let others know that they have been heard and understood. Helping others is also an important theme during this activity. Typically, the help we are in the position to offer, isn’t necessarily something that is materialistic. Offering help and friendship is the best way to provide that person with the support they need to overcome the situation.
Thanks for this wonderful and thoughtful exercise from Brandon R. Menikheim!