Could Teaching Empathy Start With Bugs?

Amber French
7 min readAug 5, 2018
Photo credit: Alexas_Photos on Pixabay

I used to think it was a little much. My husband was firm with the kids when urging them not to hurt or kill the ants, spiders, ladybugs, or any other random bug they were toying with outside. Over time, I grew to love how gently they would handle the ants that were building their little sandy huts on our patio in the backyard. They would pick them up with great care, and talk about how cute each one was, while it scurried in between each finger across their little hands. This little teaching about being respectful to bugs, seems to have stretched across all living creatures for the kids and it seems to have stuck. Our sons treat our cat with great care, express concern when someone gets injured or sick, and have randomly shown empathy for birds’ “feelings” as of late. Maybe this “be nice to the bugs” business has transformed into more than we could have imagined in the way of teaching life lessons.

Most of us would agree that if more people in the the world possessed empathy, the better place the world would be. Empathy is a fascinating emotion when you dissect it. I actually looked into the science of it and according to Helen Riess,MD, in The Journal of Patient Experience in the “The Science of Empathy” chapter, “ A cardinal feature of empathy is that it usually helps connect people to others. Because of the evolutionary development of this brain-based capacity, affective empathy, or emotional sharing, most easily occurs among members of the same “tribe”. Individuals tend to have the most empathy for others who look or act like them, for others who have suffered in a similar way, or for those who share a common goal. We see these biases play out repeatedly in communities, schools, sports teams, and religious communities. The truth of the matter is that empathy is not always an equal opportunity benefactor. People are evolutionarily wired to recognize and respond to differences and socially or culturally based perceptions can trigger subconscious fears that threaten emotional homeostasis.”

Since this current generation of parents, myself included, seems to be quite self aware, over scrutinized, and ultra helicoptery, would it be outrageous to say maybe teaching our children empathy should be right up there with teaching them not to hit, lie, cheat, and steal? Think about it for a second.

Amber French

Learning & unlearning on this parenthood journey. Mom, wifey, businesswoman, do-er, kitchen dancer. Lover of stories & people.