This is a simple class discussion activity, but if you do it consistently throughout the year, it’s one of the most powerful things you can do to promote emotional intelligence in your students.
At the start of group time or another convenient time during class, read children one of the scenarios listed below. Then tell them to imagine this happened to a best friend and ask:
- What might you say to try and help this person feel better?
- What could she do to make herself feel better?
Have children raise their hand and speak their thoughts to the class. You might also consider writing their ideas down on the board.
This activity has two main benefits. First, hearing other children voice their ideas will expose them to coping/comforting strategies they otherwise might not have thought about. Second, as children become more accustomed to soothing others, they also become better at self-soothing. So as they imagine these different scenarios and think about what thoughts or actions might help a person feel better, what they’re really doing is getting practice at handling their own upsets and disappointments. Do this exercise two or three times a week, and by the end of the school year, both you and your students’ parents are likely to see noticeable growth in each child’s emotional maturity.
Empathy building scenarios for this activity:
- All week long Kayla was looking forward to playing at her friend’s house, but at the last moment, something came up and her friend’s mom called to cancel.
- Mike painted a special picture at school and was eager to show it to his mom as soon as he got home. But as he was getting ready to leave for the day, a mean kid came by and said, “let me see.” Then he tore it in half!
- At recess today, Erica’s friends were giving her the cold shoulder, and she doesn’t understand why.
- Coming home from school, your dad seems to be in a grumpy mood, and the first thing he does when you walk in the door is scold you for something.
- Your friend’s pet cat Tubby dies.
- Your friend’s grandma dies.
- Something embarrassing happened at school today. I was in the lunchroom and slipped, spilling my tray. Everyone stared at me!
- What Jenny wanted more than anything for her birthday was a new bike, but she didn’t get one.
- Jonathan was engaged in a teamwork activity at school. He was trying to tell the others in his group something, but everyone was talking and no one would listen. He got so frustrated he walked off in a huff.
Once children get the hang of this exercise through the hypothetical examples listed above, you can start having them give you their own examples of difficult or frustrating things. Thus the activity can morph from an exercise in social and emotional intelligence into something more akin to a functioning support group.