Encouraging Empathy

Today’s post is from Morgan Mabry, Director of Youth Development, Health & Wellness at BGCA. This is her second appearance on the ClubX Blog! Be sure to read all the way through for a PHOTO OF A PUPPY AHHHHHHHHHHHH

Pain can be really hard to navigate. Our natural inclination is to avoid pain at all cost. So what do you do when you are invited into the pain of another?I recently had a friend come to me who was grieving the death of her mother. I was flooded with sadness and filled with anxiety about what to say. I worried I wouldn’t be able to provide her the support that she needed or the advice that would help her in her grief journey. It reminded me of the time at the Club when one of my members lost her mother. I felt so bad for her and I so badly wanted to say the right thing to her and make everything ok, but I couldn’t find the words.

However, in both of these circumstances, my beloved friend and young member didn’t actually need my sympathy or my words of wisdom to help them on their way. What they wanted from me in these moments was to just hear them and be present with them. They needed to know that they were not alone in their pain or their grief, they were looking for empathy.

Brené Brown defines empathy as:


In this great video, Brown describes the differences between Empathy and Sympathy:

How can I apply this to my work?

As Youth Development Professionals, you are often times invited into the pain of another. It may be a mom sharing her struggles to provide for her family, a staff processing through a break-up, a member dealing with a divorce of a parent, or a variety of other losses that your youth and community experience every day. You may be one of the only supportive adult relationships in their lives. Your role is critical in creating a safe, positive environment where they can express their pain and receive empathy in their time of need.


  • How can knowing the difference between sympathy and empathy help you in your relationships – with friends, with staff, with youth at your Club?
  • How can you encourage youth to show empathy to one another when they are dealing with pain?

Where can I get some other resources?

  • Talking to youth about emotions


Youth can’t empathize with what others are feeling if they don’t know how to put words to their own emotions. Consider using Emotional Check-Ins during your programs so that youth can reflect on the emotions that they are feeling and listen and build awareness of the emotions of others. Click here for a PDF download of some emotional check-ins to try with youth.

If you are Club staff, you can get our full Social Emotional Development Throughout the Club Day guide on BGCA.net.

  • Supporting youth who are grieving

Be There FINAL updated logo

For Club staff with a BGCA.net login, we have a suite of resources available on supporting grieving youth, including the full Be There toolkit and a series of podcasts. Find them all at bgca.net/bethere.

You can also read past ClubX Blog posts on grief here.

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Morgan has been with the Movement for 6 years, coming to BGCA from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. Her favorite movie is Tommy Boy, and she just got a GOLDEN RETRIEVER PUPPY!!!!!!!

morgan's dog!.jpg
Ok but really this is like a puppy you would see in a movie about a dog who plays basketball and saves the school from an evil budget cut or something

How do you encourage empathy in your Club? What are your best practices for developing social emotional skills? Comment below or email us at ClubXBlog@bgca.org and YOU could be featured on the Club Experience Blog!


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