How to Empathize With and Help Students
BY DEBORAH FARMER KRIS
Science tells us that empathy is a virtue, while self-criticism is a vice. Research also reveals that self-confidence is the highest indicator of academic achievement, and self-compassion is the lowest. Students who are proficient in critical thinking skills are also the most self-compassionate in every sense of the word.
In essence, self-compassionate students are motivated to learn by virtue of internal feelings, desires, and needs — attributes that are typically lacking in our results-oriented culture. Most students in any educational setting develop an “emotional psyche” that grows progressively worse over time.
This precarious state of mental health results in many challenging scenarios that prevent students from focusing on their best learning and academic abilities. Instead, they frequently lose focus on what they are most dedicated to learning and focus more on basic problems they perceive to be true at the time. In fact, thirty percent of all student absences are due to students feeling anxious, depressed, or under stress.
As an educator, you will likely be asked to assess or assist students as a result of a critical incident. A parent will ask, “What can we do to help my child have the best academic experience?” And students will want to know, “How do I become more self-compassionate?”
These types of demands can leave many parents with a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, as their loved ones are not capable of solving the complex problems that have derailed their learning.
So how do you enhance a student’s learning experience when they perceive to be a part of an undesirable situation?
• Determine which side of the brain you want your student to focus on to be more happy and motivated in a situation. More often than not, it is most beneficial to believe that the neurons in a very painful situation are still firing — even if they are not identifying the pain. Their intelligence is still exposed, they are still activating as many parts of their brain as possible, and that can be very powerful.
• Don’t tell your students that they need to behave in a certain way; instead, encourage them to think for themselves. You might say, “If you think this is going to help you succeed, you’re more likely to act like that, and more likely to continue doing it. If not, just say that you don’t know.”
• A student who is disturbed by a failure should use the pain of a failure as motivation to do better in the future. Additionally, note that students who make use of pain as motivation to improve their performance see greater improvements in their assessments and behaviors.
All of these techniques promote focus, depression, anxiety, and stress reduction in the long run. And they encourage your student to be more compassionate toward themselves as they strive to accomplish their goals.