Besides the family, the school is one of the most crucial social factors influencing the emotional maturation of the child; therefore, it’s also decisive in the development of cognitive processes (attention, memory, perception, and observation). But schools can also have a significant impact on the emotional and social development of the child. Therefore, they must aim at creating anxiety-free environments while contributing to nurturing and gratifying the emotional needs of the child, promoting curiosity, allowing exploration, and stimulating mastery of certain skills and talents.
The spiritual leader Osho said that schools should focus on teaching the art of living, the art of dying, and meditation (in addition to some English, science, and mathematics). He also said:
“A real education will not teach you how to compete; it will teach you to cooperate. It will not teach you to fight and come first. It will teach you to be creative, to be loving, to be blissful, without any comparison with the other. It will not teach you that you can be happy only when you are the first.”
Do schools stimulate empathy or teach children how to love others and respect the planet? To be self-compassionate?
The benefits of learning to love extend beyond oneself, and they begin with self-knowledge, and self-compassion.
In the Art of Loving, Fromm speaks about how, in the process of learning love, as with of any other art, certain requirements exist—discipline, concentration, patience, and dedication—without which the art can’t be mastered.
Could we provide children with a safe space where to examine their relational issues and learn to express their feelings openly? “Safe space” is a therapeutic term referring to a place and moment in which a person could feel comfortable and safe. Where they could express themselves freely and gain insight, knowing that they will be listened to and accepted, and that what is said is confidential.
Once a safe space is created, it becomes easier to express and regulate emotions. In group sessions the students can to put on the table grievances or conflicts existing between them or between them and their teachers, and this gives them the opportunity to learn mature ways of solving conflict.
Compassion can be taught, and love can be learned. And we can offer models of solidary relationships and teach principles of cooperation.
It is natural for children to respond lovingly. However, it’s important to invite them to look at the different ways in which others experience the world, helping them to reflect on the impact their actions have on others, on the planet, and on their bodies.
When a child is going through some emotional turmoil, one of the most common reactions from peers is to turn away (flee) because they don’t know how to handle the stress the situation elicits. Stimulating empathy in children is one of the key objectives of inductive discipline. In this type of discipline, social transgressions are not approached with punishment. Most modern educators are aware that punishment for social transgressions engenders reactions ranging from resentment to defiant behaviors. Instead, a child could be induced to feel sorry for the discomfort he might have caused and helped to reflect on the effect his actions had on another. Then a reparative action can be suggested—hugging, asking for forgiveness, inviting the other to play—so that shame and guilt are attenuated. These behaviors would be remembered and would eventually contribute to a reinforcement of the neural circuits for empathy. The newfound empathy will then contribute to the limiting of aggression and an increase in prosocial behavior.