Seven Ways to Teach Children Empathy

When my youngest daughter was little she watched the movie, The Fox and The Hound and cried and cried at the end when Tod was attacked by the bear.  What is empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what others feel.  It is putting yourself in another’s shoes.

Here’s a lovely story about empathy:



Some children are just naturally more empathetic.  It may be due to their personality style or perhaps a life experience that has made them able to identify with how someone else is feeling, much like the boy in the video.  However, as parents and educators we can play a significant role in developing empathy in children.  Here are some tips:

  • Create an environment where their own emotional needs are being met.  The first order of business is for the adults in a child’s life to show empathy toward them.  Children need to feel safe both physically and emotionally.  When they experience disappointing and frustrating events, is there someone who understands and supports them?
  • Encourage children to explore how beliefs, emotions and desires impact relationships.  Rather than brushing off children’s experiences and feelings, parents can explore all aspects of a situation by asking questions;  how did that make you feel?  how do you think the other person felt?  how did that influence their behavior?  what are your choices in responding to the situation? Teach children to expand their perspective by taking on the perspective of others.
  • Be a role model for empathy.  Child learn more by what we do that what we say.  Make sure that you are showing empathy in your relationships.  If you collect food for a food bank or toys for a holiday service project make the experience more real by discussing where these things go and what life must be like for the people who benefit.  Better still, involve them in a way that helps them interact with real people not just collecting a box of food items or toys.
  • Look for teachable moments.  Use real life situations, books, movies and cartoons to point out ways that others show empathy as well as to help children identify with the feelings of others.  Ask: how would you feel if that happened to you?  What would you want someone else to do to show that they cared?  To go beyond talking and imagining what it must be like, act out situations with your child.  This not only helps them empathize with others but helps them experience the choices they have in how they respond.
  • Teach that even though we are all very different, we still have much in common.  Part of understanding and appreciating diversity is recognizing that we all have the same feelings.  Everyone has a  need for compassion and support.
  • Have children use facial expression to imagine how someone else is feeling.  Apparently there is a connection between our brain and our physical expression that results in an ability to feel and understand other’s feelings.  Just the act of making an angry face or a sad face, helps us tune in to one another’s emotions.
  • Help your child develop an internal sense of right and wrong.  Providing reasonable explanations and moral consequences that are not based on rewards and punishments will help your child internalize a moral code that will serve them well throughout life.

How have you taught children about empathy?  What is an example of empathy that you have experienced in a child?  I’d love to hear in the comment section.





The Greatest Gift a Teacher can Give

What is the power of expectation and mindset?  It is not only huge but it trumps ability every time.  In an education world that has become increasing obsessed with data, testing and assessment, what role does a teacher’s positive expectations play in a student’s performance?  Apparently it  is the greatest gift a teacher can give a child.

In a classic research study done in the 1960’s, Robert Rosenthal explored the power of teacher expectation on the performance of students in their classroom.  Listen to the amazing results of that study…

This study is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago.  How can this information  influence us as educators and parents?

We can pay attention to:

The climate:  Are we creating an encouraging, warm environment where kids feel safe to ask questions and make mistakes?

The possibilities:  Are we providing expanded opportunities for every child to learn and explore?

The response opportunity factor:  Are we giving each child a chance to participate and to talk at length? How are we modeling critical thinking?

The positive feedback: Are we looking for opportunities to praise and encourage?  Do we accept less from some students because we think they are not capable, rather than challenging them to be more and learn more?

Mindset and expectations are more than just thinking positively.  It isn’t just visualizing success.  Instead it is creating a specific environment through intentional interaction that fosters the  creativity, the imagination and the innate ability of each child.

What do you think about this classic study?  Have you seen examples of this at work, either positively or negatively? I’d love to hear your experience in the comment section!

Five Ways to turn Sibling Rivalry Around


 In honor of National Siblings Day I am reposting this blog on Sibling Rivalry.

We can all probably remember the sibling rivalry that went on in our own families. As the oldest in my family, I certainly participated in plenty of bickering and arguing of my own.

Once you become a parent though, what you participated in as a kid quickly becomes one of the most infuriating things you have to deal with.  Unless of course you only have one child, in which case I guess the sibling your child argues with is you!

Turns out the conflict and arguments that are an inevitable part of siblings growing up together, are also great opportunities for children to learn interpersonal skills.  Here are five ways that you as a parent can ease the tension when children disagree and encourage cooperation and understanding.



  • Recognize each child’s different personality style and talents– Recognizing strengths and maximizing them is a great way to honor the individuality of each child. Practical ways that you can do this are by spending one-on-one time regularly with each child and letting him choose what you do together.  Be sure to point out the areas where you see him excelling as well as encourage him in those areas.
  • Model how to compromise and solve conflicts–Children learn from us how to handle difficult situations.  Talk with her about the challenges you face every day and how you worked out the problem.  Make sure you aren’t blaming others or pointing out others faults, but rather are honestly sharing how you reconcile differences.  Point out that just as you had to compromise, or consider options or look at things  from a different perspective, so she can do this as well in her interactions.
  • Encourage positive and constructive communication–Teach your child that conflicts are normal but there a lots of ways to solve them.  Teach your child to identify the problem and then consider the possibilities for resolution.  Does one child want to play with a toy and the other not want to share?  Ask them to list all the possible solutions to the is problem; play together with the toy, set a timer for each child to play individually with the toy, both take a break and play with something else, etc.  Then rather than you as the parent making the executive decision have them work together to decide which choice is best.  Teach them ways to decide such as; vote, roll a dice and high number wins, rock, paper, scissors. The point here is that as parents we aren’t just solving their problems today, we are teaching them how to solve much bigger conflicts later in life.  Does this take more time than putting the toy up and not letting anyone play with it?  Yes!  But in the long run you are saving time because children are learning to solve their own problems rather than rely on you every time.
  • Frame conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem–Some personality styles are more sensitive to conflict than others.  Some would rather avoid it and others prefer to face it head on.  Teach your children that conflict is normal but how you look at it is important.  Instead of a problem, consider it an opportunity to become closer to each other, to establish rules of play or family time, to understand each others point of view better.  In order to do this, we need to encourage dialogue rather than separation.  As a parent, I would sometime separate my daughters in their own rooms “until you can get along.”  Unfortunately nothing is happening in the separate rooms to encourage this. Instead, consider having the children in conflict sit beside each other and talk until they can solve their differences.
  • Recognize your own feelings surrounding conflict and interpersonal differences.  Just as our children come with their own personalities, we as parents have not only our own temperament but our own history with sibling rivalry.  Were you the youngest child in your family who felt continually picked on by the oldest?  Were you the middle child who felt you had to create conflict to get noticed?  Our own history may flavor how we react to conflict in our children.  Make sure that you are operating out of a calm space and teaching good skills rather than taking sides or replaying your own history.

Sibling rivalry can be seen as a problem to be squashed or an opportunity to build character, cooperation, understanding, interpersonal skills and closeness if we give our children the support and encouragement to help them work it out. As parents we can model and teach the best way to solve interpersonal conflicts, leaving our children with skills they will use all their lives.


Want to learn more about sibling rivalry and other parenting questions?  Check out my eBook, Stuff Parents Want to Know for free!  Click on the Store tab, follow the link and use the coupon code, wyattwonders, for a free download.

How do we teach children courage?

In her book, The Gift of Imperfection, Brene Brown identifies the three cornerstones of whole hearted living:  courage, compassion and connection.  Wouldn’t we all  love to encourage these qualities in our children?


What is the meaning of courage?

The word courage comes from the the Latin word cor which means heart.  Today courage is usually associated with being brave.  In our child’s world, it may mean not crying when getting a shot at the doctor’s or heading off to school for the first time even though we are shaking in our boots.  In the past though, courage meant something rather different.  It meant to speak one’s mind by sharing one’s heart.  It meant sharing honestly and openly who we are rather than trying to impress and meet someone else’s expectations. Having courage in modern day society which is built on comparisons and competition is a daunting job. As they get older what child doesn’t worry about fitting in, being popular, dressing in the current style or in a million other ways, being the best?


Children are naturally authentic

When children are little, they feel little or no shame with sharing who they are.  They are authentically themselves.  We watch small children dance or draw or sing with no restrictions and no inhibitions.  They are excited and proud to share their efforts.  But later, as children approach eight to ten years of age this all changes.

Suddenly they begin to compare how they dance with the moves of others.

They look at their art work and notice that someone else’s looks better or garners more approval.

They worry about singing off key.


The Great Comparison Game

Once the comparison begins, we start to hold close our true authentic selves as well as the expression of our gifts and talents.  This is the age when children begin to say, “I can’t draw or I can’t dance.”  They stand on the sidelines and watch others.  They become too cool to dance or sing.  They speak disparagingly of their own efforts.  They act like it doesn’t matter.  Thus begins the great comparison game.

Ask any adult today and they can usually remember a specific time when they felt different and inadequate in comparison to others.  Maybe it was an actual incidence when someone made fun of their efforts.  Or maybe it was much more subtle, the rolling of eyes and shaking of the head, but a decision was made that they just didn’t have the talent, the skill or the ability that someone else did. They didn’t measure up.  They weren’t enough.


How do we teach courage?   

Teaching children to have courage, to be who they authentically are is not an easy task.  It doesn’t mean creating a perfect world where a child will never feel shame. It doesn’t mean patting them on the back and saying “Good job.  You can do and be anything you want!” It’s much harder and tricker than offering pat answers and meaningless phrases to our children.

It means instead teaching children to have the inner resources and confidence to know in Brene’s words, “I am imperfect and I am enough.” Sometimes it means just listening without offering solutions. It means sitting with them through the pain and holding their hands and their hearts. It means teaching children to be gentle and kind to themselves as well as others.  How many of us have such high standards and expectations of ourselves that we would never impose on someone else?

Teaching children to have courage means helping them discern who supports and encourages them in our critical often cruel world and who to disassociate from and ignore. It is recognizing that being enough means not having to please and meet the expectations of peers.  A true friend is someone who accepts us as we are, imperfections and all.

Finally, we teach courage by modeling it ourselves. We can share our own struggles and imperfections.  We can teach by example as we courageously try new things and give ourselves permission to be imperfect.  We can do the heart work and know that it will create a ripple effect in our children and in our world.

How to raise responsible, self-reliant children

I often hear teachers lament that the students today have little intrinsic motivation and initiative.  Certainly as a guidance counselor, I  often presented lessons on being responsible.  When asked what it means to be responsible, children usually have a good idea.  When asked what responsibilities they have, I would get a variety of answers; everything from I don’t have any chores, to I have to clean my room and do my homework.

Developing a Responsible Attitude=Adult Success 

While children often lament the responsibilities they have, it is a rare adult who doesn’t attribute their success to being held to a standard as a child.  Darren Hardy in his book, The Compound Effect writes of his strict, single parent upbringing by his dad, a high school football coach, who held Darren responsible and accountable for chores, school work and personal choices.  Dan Miller, author of 48 Days to the Work You Love, often refers to his strict Mennonite farm upbringing where he rose early to milk the cows before attending school. Both believe that their motivation and  success is due at least in part to the habits and attitudes they developed as children.


Eight tips for encouraging responsible self-reliant children:

Being responsible is part of the teamwork involved in family life.  Parents who can convey responsibilities as jobs that everyone does to create the whole fabric of a working, loving family model will gain the best cooperation.  Here are some tips for developing responsible children:

  • Be clear on expectations and results expected.  Clean your room may mean put everything in it’s place to a parent and shove everything in the closet to a child.  Allow for age and ability differences.
  • Determine a time frame.  Is this a daily chore or a once a week chore?  Does it need to be completed by a certain time?
  • Don’t present the chore as a choice when it really isn’t one.  Many times parents will say, “Will you pick up your toys for me?”  which implies that one answer could be, “No thanks, I’d rather play.”  A better communication is a statement, “It’s time to pick up your toys before dinner.”
  • Provide plenty of praise and encouragement but don’t get stuck in a reward mode for every behavior.  A reward such as paying for a chore should be given for extra jobs taken on not for the routine ones.
  • Be consistent and create routine habits. Chores done on a haphazard schedule give the impression that you don’t care and ultimately the system will fall apart.
  • Allow for mistakes.  Encourage your child to be a problem solver when things don’t go as planned and figure out how to fix the problem.  This is better than taking over and doing the task for them.
  • Set a responsible role model yourself.  It doesn’t hurt to point out that as the parent, you have your responsibilities as well and that you will be completing them while he does his part.
  • Create a sense of play and fun.  Not all chores have to be boring drudgery.  Have a race to see who can clean the fastest.  Put on some music and dance while loading the dishwasher.  There are plenty of ways to make chores a great time of interaction and engagement as a family.

How many positive comments does it take?

What do you do when someone makes a critical comment?  Hide in bed with a pillow over your head?  Make a snappy come back…several hours later?  Repeat it over and over to yourself?

Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage writes about how many positive comments it takes to over ride one negative comment.  Turns out a lot.  Based on research by psychologist and business consultant, Marcial Losada,  2.9013 is the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to ensure success. Known as the ‘Losada Line’, the studies show that if you rise above this line (and ideally a ratio of six to one is best), then teams produce their very best work.

What if we applied this knowledge to families and schools?  In short, what if we went beyond saying  “Good job!”  every once in a while and really told the people we care about…well, just how much we care?  Someone did some research on that too and it’s pretty powerful.

Focusing on positive interactions and making sure that we provide a positive environment with more encouragement than negativity can just by itself transform a relationship and ensure success.  How often do we as adults feel that our job as parents and teachers is to instruct and correct children, but that positive feedback is nice but not really necessary?  How often have you heard someone say, “Why do I have to compliment them on good behavior when that is just what they are expected to do anyway?”  Turns out we all flourish and perform best in a positive caring environment.  Oh, and it increases our own level of happiness too.

Who can you share a positive comment with today?