I don’t know why I always get nervous about parent-teacher meetings. I guess any parent wants to know that their child is doing well, and a little worried about any problems that might come up. At my four-year-old son’s most recent one, just before schools closed down due to the current pandemic, we discussed the usual with his teacher—development milestones, checking in on integrating things he’s learning at school and at home, and so on. But one thing his preschool teacher said stood out.
“Your son is so good at talking about how he’s feeling, and the other kids are learning that from him. He’s also very good about checking in with other kids when they get hurt.”
This was a proud moment for my partner and I. No kid is perfect, ours included. We knew that just like other kids his age, he had been working hard on this, and that we’d also been working on it as a family. As PGK founder Molly Yuska always says, kids are hard-wired for empathy, and all we have to do is activate it. We love going to Create the Change Day every year, and we try to make some time in our crazy lives for simple activities at home and in our community that help others, even if it’s just a few minutes out of our day. We also take the time to talk about how even the simplest everyday actions (or inaction) impact the people around us—and the planet—too. There are a lot of great children’s books we read that have helped spark these conversations.
His teacher reminded us that it’s working. This stuff actually works! And it’s more important than ever now.
One of our favorite ways to teach kindness and empathy is through reading. The best books about kindness also teach empathy. You can’t truly be kind without it. Empathy is what turns “being nice” into “being kind.”
What’s more, sitting down and reading a book with your child fosters a deep sense of connection and instills a love for reading, and the lessons from the books you choose continue to resonate long after the book has been put down. And as any parent knows, kids will want to read books again and again, so it’s great to have books you’ll actually want to read. Admit it—we all have those books we want to “accidentally” lose! It’s also important to include books that teach the lessons you really want them to learn.
Here’s a few of our favorites that we love to go back to again and again.
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1. Be Kind
When a little girl has an embarrassing grape juice disaster, the main character ponders how to help and show kindness. There’s an undercurrent of empathy running through the book as well, showing that it’s important to consider someone’s feelings and actual needs.
The last in Mo Willem’s excellent Knuffle Bunny series, Trixie again loses her beloved toy bunny, but then makes an unexpected choice rooted in deep kindness that will warm your heart.
This one is a fun read for kids, with lots of animal and car sound effects they can say along with you. But the story is also a sweet one! When a big, rude dump truck gets stuck in the mud, how will he get out now that he’s alienated everyone who could help? A friendly little blue truck comes to the rescue, teaching everyone in the story the importance of kindness and community.
This book is actually great at teaching empathy, inviting the reader to think about how George is feeling as he is presented with situations that are very difficult for a dog to resist. Delicious cake? A cat to chase? Plants to dig up?? Oh no! The cliffhanger ending provides lots of room for creative discussion, too!
If you’re looking for craft projects to do with your kids, check our our activity finder. Click “Good for” and select “Everyone” to get some great ideas that you can do with your littles from home that are fun and really make a difference. You can make cards for home-bound seniors, make no-sew blankets for shelter animals or newborn babies, and more.
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