Reading Aloud to Help Your Child Who Is Blind or Low Vision Develop Empathy

It seems empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we could all use a bit more of today. Wouldn’t it be a far healthier place if we could recognize, care about, and express concern over each other’s feelings and experiences, no matter our differences? All relationships (familial, neighborly, friendships, peers, coworkers, and even interactions with strangers) would be enhanced.

While we can’t control how strangers treat each other, we do influence our families: Let’s sew the seeds that nurture empathy.

Empathy development 

Fully-sighted little ones notice facial expressions; they begin to realize other people are displaying emotions. Babies as young as nine months look to others to gauge how they should respond to situations.

We can help small children who are blind or low vision learn these skills by explicitly teaching them about the emotions and concerns of others.

Reading aloud 

Nobody receives a play-by-play of other’s emotions, regardless of whether a child is fully sighted or visually impaired. This is why all children benefit from not only identifying emotions in themselves but also hearing about emotions and thoughts in others. As parents, we can have numerous conversations about how experiences and comments make us feel.

Another tool to help our children understand the inner workings of others’ minds is reading.

While there are numerous benefits to gathering your kiddos and exploring new worlds through books, the benefit of helping our children develop empathy is what we’ll focus on here.

Consider how narratives provide insight into the thought life of characters.

In the book “The Wind in the Willows,” three different animals take a journey by caravan, like a motorhome pulled by a horse. One friend, Toad, consistently boasted of his fine home and possessions. This made his friends uncomfortable. He also slept until late morning on the caravan bunks while his friends, Mole and Rat, busily cleaned the previous night’s dishes, prepped the caravan for the day’s journey, and prepared breakfast. They weren’t keen on Toad not pulling his share of the housework and did confront him.

Yes, we can tell our children not to boast and to help with housework, but how much more meaningful are the lessons learned from immersing oneself in the character’s life and feeling what it’s like to hear repeated bragging and be left with an unbalanced share of responsibility?

Another book to read is The Hundred Dresses, about a girl who was teased for wearing the same dress every day. You can imagine what can be gleaned and discussed.

Don’t think that the book must be explicitly about how actions make people feel. Consider the following empathy-related benefits gained from reading a wide variety of stories:

  • Simply listening to inner dialogue demonstrates that others do have robust inner-thought lives.
  • Hearing how others interpret hurtful or scary experiences helps us recognize our thoughts about similar events.
  • By reading about many characters, we realize people don’t always think the same way we do.
  • We realize others have different experiences than we do.
  • Reading biographies of men, women, and children who bravely changed the course of history gives us a better understanding of why they boldly made the decisions they did.

So, set aside time in your daily routine to cozy up and read together. Set sail on literary adventures, and you’ll explore the world of empathy.

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