Become A Star In Empathy

Social Emotional Learning is gaining more worldwide attention in schools: from New York to Singapore and from London to Abu Dhabi there is a growing realization that EQ is just as important as IQ. Social Emotional Learning helps children deal with their feelings and has a positive effect on their school performance. Social-emotional skills are inseparable from cognitive skills. 

What is Social Emotional Learning?

The essence of Social Emotional Learning is learning to deal with your own feelings and thoughts. Identifying those feelings, and thoughts is essential in making effective social contact: if children can attach words to their feelings it becomes a lot easier to understand, support and help them. Social Emotional Learning is about the connection with one’s own feelings and ideas and social relationships with others.

Express yourself

A child that cannot cope with his or her emotions has difficulties within the family but also at school, on the football pitch and playing outside with friends. Quarrels, loneliness, theatrical behaviour, not being able to enjoy themselves are all examples of manifestations that are partly due to a lack of ability to cope with their own emotions.

Besides this, it does not get any easier when, in the society in which the child grows up, a taboo prevails about expressing and naming emotions. Luckily this is changing and schools are realising that children can only perform well in maths if they are at ease with their innerselves. In fact, social skills form the basics for all other issues.

Walking in someone else’s shoes

One of the key aspects of Social Emotional Learning is empathy. Empathy is often described as ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’. An empathetic person can identify with the feelings and thoughts of others. Empathy means that you can watch and listen to others without judging them. You can replace yourself in the inner world of someone else.

It is important for children to develop empathetic skills because it provides them with many benefits. It is essential in creating and maintaining friendships and it ensures a tolerant attitude which makes children less likely to judge or bully. Furthermore, it plays an important part in their development into a mature person: not only are empathetic qualities important in private life, but also in professional life. More and more companies demand ‘soft skills’ from their staff. A high IQ alone is not enough. Indeed, in many professions EQ is just as important.

Developing empathy through play

‘At least some other children now know how I feel and I am no longer alone’ said a girl after playing Stars of Empathy.

She was not used to talking about herself, but it was a pleasant experience. Stars of Empathy is a board game that allows children to discover each other’s world. In a playful environment, children learn to talk about themselves and listen to each other. They tell each other what makes them happy, what they do when they are angry and they learn how to give compliments to each other. A whole range of emotions is discussed: joy, fear, jealousy and sadness etc. The subjects of the discussions alternate and are analogous to the daily lives of the children in which fun, sadness and happiness alternate as well. 


The children discover that it is not strange to experience feelings of sorrow or fear: others appear to recognize their feelings. Shared feelings – both positive and negative – create a sense of relief and solidarity. Sometimes the negative emotions you have disappear after discussing them with others. The feeling is no longer stuck in your head, but instead you share it with someone.

Feeling and thinking are complementary

Recently, whilst playing Stars of Empathy, one of the children received the question: How do you feel if you see a child being bullied? After considering this he replied: ‘Well.. what do you actually feel? You aren’t being bullied yourself.’ His classmate: ‘You feel that he is being bullied.’ He: ‘Yes you see that. But you don’t feel it.’ Another classmate: ‘I don’t feel good then, because it isn’t nice if someone is being bullied.’ Classmate: ’I feel as though someone needs my help then.’

In their own way the children were actively putting their feelings and thoughts into words, connecting and sympathising with others.

It was a super empathic discussion with a capital E.

Loes is founder of Stars of Empathy: a boardgame for children to improve their Emotional Intelligence. She has developed this game in English, Arabic and Dutch. Loes has a background in political science and currently works as a developer of Social and Emotional Learning methods and as an occupational therapist. Loes strongly believes that soft skills are the key to a meaningful life, personal as well as professional: “Today’s kids are the fathers, mothers, teachers and leaders of tomorrow. It’s truly important to help them developing soft skills”.


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