But did you also know that reading, particularly reading fiction, helps your children become more empathetic, able to understand and share the feelings of others?
Why is empathy important?
- Empathy helps children develop a heart of compassion for a broken world.
- Empathy helps children care about more than possessions, so they focus on people and relationships instead.
- Empathy helps children see beyond themselves, so they are aware of the others who God puts in their paths.
How do books help develop empathy?
Children aren't born with the ability to guess at people's inner worlds; it's something they must learn. And first, children must learn that other people even have emotions and desires distinct from their own.
In real life, you may get an occasional glimpse into other people's minds, like when a friend tells you what she's thinking or how she’s feeling. Usually, however, you can only guess at the thoughts, emotions, and motives of others.
Reading fiction takes you outside of yourself, out of your own thoughts, and into the mind of another person. You enter into the world of others and experience life through their eyes. You consider their predicaments. You hope that things work out for the good guys.
In one book, you might read about a girl whose friend is unkind to another girl in the class: How should you respond?
Or you read about a boy who is learning what it is to be a man: What does responsibility look like? How should you deal with fear? What is the appropriate use of violence (or is there any)?
Or you read about a family who befriends a lonely boy: What does kindness look like, especially in difficult situations?
As C.S. Lewis described reading in An Experiment in Criticism:
We want to be more than ourselves. . . . We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. . . . [I]n reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.
Fiction helps you imagine what others are thinking and feeling and trains you to feel empathy for others.