Building empathy with candy and board games

Photo by Peter G. Sánchez
Danielle Delmonaco plays Chutes and Ladders (with a twist), with her children Christian and Olivia April 15 at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish’s family-oriented event on empathy.

SWEDESBORO — The game was simple, yet revealing, for all ages present here at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish, Saint Joseph Hall.

If Mom wanted a yellow Skittle, she had to say what she appreciates about her family.

If her son or daughter preferred purple, they would have to explain how they liked to have fun.

This was just one of the games parents and their children played together last Sunday afternoon for a workshop on developing empathy, and how emotional intelligence, a listening ear, and respect can bring peace to communities.

The idea for the day was born out of recent disturbing events in the United States, including the mass shootings in Las Vegas. In the “Empathy — Let It Begin with Me” event, children’s games and a parents-only discussion led by a social worker combined for a fun and educational time for all.

Questions in the Skittles game, and others that focused on doubts and worries, were designed to help families “identify emotions, and talk about them constructively,” said Elena Brandt, the parish’s pastoral associate. In a culture that seems to suppress emotions, leading to unspoken thoughts that later can cause emotional difficulties, the act of listening, and being listened to, is powerful, she said.

“This parish is doing a great job of addressing the needs of families,” said parent Erica Voll, playing a fishing game with her children, 8-year-old Beatrice and 6-year-old Edward. “I’m enjoying the sense of community.”

“Empathy is the basis of Catholic social teaching,” said Father David Grover, pastor, who during the event talked with families and took part in game-playing with them.

The gathering helped parents and children “listen to each other, and themselves,” which will only help them “understand the other” who they encounter later on the street, schoolyard, or church pew, Father Grover said.

“These experiences create an experience, and help develop a ‘Catholic handbook’ for families,” he added.