Mark Ruffalo and Sesame Street Teach Kids About Empathy

Empathy is a hard thing to understand, and it’s an even harder thing to do — if you weren’t raised to do it. With the help of actor Mark Ruffalo, Sesame Street tries to explain the meaning of empathy to the kids at home.

Mark: “Empathy is when you’re able to understand and care about how someone else is feeling.”

Murray: “Oh right, that’s what empathy is! [Pause] I don’t get it.”

We’ve all experienced this. It’s a challenging concept to define, especially when differentiating it with sympathy, compassion and understanding. It’s much better illustrated with examples than described in words.

In fact, Mark himself shows empathy for muppet Murray in choosing the examples by which to demonstrate it: stubbing his toe, losing his teddy bear. These aren’t things you would use to explain empathy to an adult. Sesame Street thought about the experiences a child would identify with, to elicit empathy within themselves as a means to explain it.

“You could understand exactly how I was feeling.”

I’ve done a lot of research on empathy education, especially when it comes to kids. In short, it’s a chain reaction: Those who receive empathy are more likely to give it.

Kudos to Sesame Street for taking on such a challenging topic, giving parents and caretakers an opening to talk about this crucial human capacity with the youngest members of our society before they’ve been deprogrammed. We’re wired to care, but just like any muscle, it atrophies when it goes unused.

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  1. says

    This is great. Empathy gets misunderstood a lot as something very intangible and hard to manage/train. I’ve been looking into it a lot recently and find the differences between cognitive and affective empathy really fascinating – I think it’s easier for people to stomach learning to understand someone else than learning to feel their emotions. I’d love to see some of the reading/resources you’ve come across on teaching kids empathy – I find that stuff fascinating. I recently came across an academic paper on teaching medical students empathy through storytelling, seems to be in line with a lot of the developments in UX as well.

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