The best books for teaching children resilience and empathy
Cat Weldon, author of the hilarious Viking adventure How to Be a Hero, believes the best way to teach empathy to kids and help them build resilience is through the joy of reading.
Resilience and empathy are vital life skills which are just as important for children’s future success as maths and literacy skills. A Public Health England study found that ‘social and emotional competencies have been found to be a more significant determinant of academic attainment than IQ.’ Here, Cat Weldon, author of How to Be a Hero – the first book in a hilarious and fast-paced trilogy about how to be brave – explains how reading can help children develop these emotional skills. She also recommends some of her favourite books for teaching children resilience and empathy.
Resilience has become one of the more recent buzzwords in education. Headteachers and government ministers are busily quoting studies which show that children with greater resilience are more likely to turn into successful and fulfilled adults. No one doubts the value of resilience, but the question of how to instil this skill in children and young people is trickier.
To develop resilience, a child needs to try, fail and try again. Schools provide lots of different safe and manageable ways for children to fail, be it through sports matches, exams, or winning and losing house points. But there is another way to encourage the development of resilience, and that is through combining it with empathy.
It is hard to understate the importance of empathy, the ability to put yourself in another’s place and recognise their experiences. It is this skill which allows us to forge bonds and build communities, something which is more essential than ever in these uncertain times.
This is where reading comes into its own. In no other medium are we invited into the thoughts and emotions of another in quite such an intimate and direct way. Whether the characters are a pair of acquisitive magpies, a one-legged robot or a teenage boy with dreams of becoming a comic book artist, we travel every step of their journey with them as silent companions, questioning their decisions and commiserating with their difficulties.
Reading about the struggles of others is a safe and emotionally resonant way for children and young people to develop resilience. Imagining yourself in the place of a favourite character and experiencing their turmoil as they stand up to bullies, test friendships to the limit, or even face down dragons is an excellent way of cultivating both empathy and resilience.
Through reading, children and young people are safely placed in challenging situations and pushed to expand their world view. These fictionalised situations can then be used as a template for our own triumphs and embarrassments, giving readers an emotional resource to draw on in difficult times and forging resilience within us all.
The following books are all suitable for children and young people as a springboard into empathy and resilience, and many other topics besides.
Discover How to Be a Hero, the first book in a trilogy about how to be brave, what it means to be a hero and just how confusing the Norse Gods really are.