Scripture gives direction and encouragement for us in the important work of teaching to the heart. Hear the hope in this verse:
For the word of God is quick and powerful…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
These two Christlike emotions build on one another:
Sympathy is an emotion of compassion. It lives out the truth of Jude 1: 22, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.”
Classmates bound together through acts of sympathy tend to love and cooperate with each other more, and selfish behavior is reduced.
The best way to teach sympathy is to model it, of course. So your life, the life of Jesus, and the wonderful stories in the Abeka readers are daily models. What else could you purposely do?
Work together to think of things to say to express sympathy.
- “I am so sorry.”
- “I love you.”
- “I will pray for you.”
- “This Bible verse blesses me: Psalm 46:1 ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’”
- “What can I do for you?”
Make and deliver sympathy notes and gifts for classmates and school personnel.
Pray. Remember a truly compassionate heart is Holy Spirit initiated. Otherwise it is just a fleeting feeling.
Begin teaching compassion early.
When teachers read aloud books about kindness, they create opportunities to practice kindness. Acting out the story helps very young children understand what being kind feels like. Children learn how to sound kind by repeating “lines” during the activity. Mimicking facial expression during the drama can help a child learn to look kind.
Our natural selfishness can lead to feelings of entitlement and even the problem of bullying. Empathy moves past sympathy to sensitivity of another’s feelings or perspective. “Walking in the other person’s shoes” creates a unique level of understanding.
Part of developing empathy is choosing our words carefully. I remember an object lesson from my childhood that has stayed with me. After a Sunday school lesson on being kind, my teacher squeezed toothpaste onto the plate she gave us. We attempted to put the toothpaste back into the tube with toothpicks. We gave it a good try, but as you can imagine, it did not work out so well. She said our words are like the toothpaste. Once they’re out they cannot be easily taken back. Then, I recall being asked to give examples of words that edify and words that tear down. Having these fresh on the mind developed a filter for the tongue that carried over even into adulthood.
And do not forget your facial expressions—they send important signals of attention and understanding. Paul Eckman, known as “the best human lie detector in the world,” writes that the emotions of happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger, and sadness are expressed using the same facial movements across all cultures. Your face speaks a universal language!
Shining light on these qualities of compassion and understanding has the potential to change hearts as well as the classroom atmosphere— and the world!
My To-Do List for Teaching Positive Emotions
- Model desired actions and reactions from the heart.
- Reinforce them in Bible lessons and daily teaching as they naturally flow throughout the course of the school day.
- Raise expectations—others may not, but with the Lord’s help, you can.
- Value and acknowledge expressions of sympathy and empathy that you observe in your students.
- Look for and collect stories that teach the heart.
- Strengthen your own heart by finding a verse of Scripture every morning, memorizing it, and going to sleep quoting it to God.