Are You Raising a Callous Child?

em·pa·thy  /ˈɛm θi/ Pronunciation Key – [em-puh-thee] –noun

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.  

A three year old boy declares from his car seat in the back seat of their SUV, “Mom, we have to be very careful of that motorcycle, right? If we hit him he’ll bet hurt, right mom, and that would hurt.”

In contrast,  another small child of five, laughs, as her team mate trips over the ball and limps off the field crying into the arms of mommy. The laughing child then gets angry that the game must be stopped to tend to the hurt child, “but I want to play now!”

What makes these two children so different in their abilities to be empathetic? Why does the child of five show less empathy than the three year old?

  1. It is crucial to a child’s moral development to be taught empathy by parents.
  2. Empathy must be taught to children; it is not developed without training.
  3. Empathy training must start at infancy.

It is pretty clear from the reactions of the children in the two different situations that one child has had ongoing empathy training from birth, while the other child has not had the same training. Lack of training about empathy can lead to callous, self-centered and narcissistic adults.

Modeling empathy

It is well known that children learn from example. Therefore, demonstrating empathy is a crucial way to teach children to be empathetic. There are many different ways of modeling empathy.

Parent with compassion.

Patience, kindness and thoughtful interaction with children contribute to raising kind, empathetic, and compassionate people. Taking the time to listen and really focusing on what a child is saying is the start of teaching empathy.

Kneel when giving directions, listen closely to what the child is saying and repeat their words, and read their emotions: These are all ways to show children what it is like to have someone try to experience what they are feeling. Parents should not forget to model compassion outside of the home too. Treating people with dignity and respect teaches children to treat people with dignity and respect.  

Help children experience empathy firsthand.

Bring children to a local animal shelter, donate used items to a homeless shelter, and visit assisted living facilities. These and other acts of kindness put children in close proximity to those in need.

Expose children to great humanitarians.

A trip to the library to research famous humanitarians can be a wonderful experience for parents eager to instill empathy in their children. Learning about great givers like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and modern day Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aun San Suu Kyi, will expand the child’s world view, and teach them about people who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of others.

Label emotions so that children understand the normal feelings they are experiencing.

Children have the same feelings that adults do, including anxiety, sadness, frustration and anger. Parents can help them to identify their emotions by paying close attention and asking them what they are feeling. Helping a child get in touch with his feelings is an empathetic gesture and bonds parent and child. Parents can explain that everyone experiences feelings. For instance, the little girl sitting alone at lunch feels lonely. Similarly, the boy who had his name put on the blackboard for bad behavior probably felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Identify situations where empathy is appropriate.

The homeless, injured animals, crying children and sad family members are situations to which children come face to face. Being sensitive to age and maturity so as not to frighten children, parents can point out and discuss sad situations with children. Simple questions like, “How would you feel if…”, train children to put themselves in another’s shoes.

The goal in teaching empathy to children is to raise kind, caring adults. Living in a world that places enormous emphasis on fame, immediate gratification, and acquisition can retard children’s social development by placing all of the emphasis on “me”. Without the ability to shift focus away from “me” and onto others, people can not establish deep and lasting relationships as adults.

Parents should not underestimate their role in instilling empathy in their children. Empathy training happens at home from infancy.  By teaching children how to feel what others may be feeling, parents will raise loving and kind people.


Step up to the plate and teach your children to share!

When 5 year old Noah is asked if he likes to share his toys, he honestly answers, “No.” When probed a little further Noah explains, “My toys are cool but when I get done with them, when I get tired of them I will share.” When asked what he does if he wants a toy that another child is using, he says, “I just wait until they are done with it.”

When 2 year old Seth is asked if he likes to share his toys he says, “No, not really.” Asked why, he elusively answers, “Maybe, when I am done.” What he means is, “No way.”

Sharing is a very difficult concept for young children to grasp. Until the ages of 5 or 6 sharing makes very little sense and can be frustrating.

It is clear from the responses of both boys that sharing is not first on their agendas. However 5 year old Noah is much farther along developmentally and understands the rules of sharing far better than 2 year old Seth.

Possession of objects is the allure. Little children are often more interested in attaining the object that another child has than in playing with the item they have in front of them. Believing that they are at the center of the universe, a young child’s natural inclination is to reach over and take whatever it is that he wants.

Grabbing other people’s possessions is, of course, never okay, and parents must begin to curb this behavior early. Sharing can and must be taught starting from the time children are tiny. If parents do not start teaching sharing early, children will not be equipped to handle social situations with other children.

At a t-ball game for 3 year olds, parents watched unhappily as one child grabbed every ball that was batted into the outfield. The boy’s father, standing with the boy on the “pitchers mound,” did nothing as again and again his child rushed around in front of the other children and took the ball. This child left a wake of crying children in his path as he shoved them aside and stole the ball. The father was oblivious to the effect his child’s behavior was having on the other children and parents.

When asked about the situation, a frustrated father of another 3 year old said, “If that boy were mine, I would have been right in there keeping him in his position, it was clearly the father’s role to manage that child and teach the child to share.” This astute father’s comments are correct.

The following three actions are a progressive set of guidelines for teaching children to share. If one action fails, then move to the next:


Watch children interacting from a distance.  Take an interest in how the children are playing but do not get involved. Allow the kids to do their thing without hovering. Observe with the intent to intercede should the situation call for it. Think about effective ways to talk about sharing should the children need an adult to step in.


When something comes up early in an interaction that could become destructive, parents should get involved.  As soon as parents see the sign of a problem it is time to give a tip, a pointer, or guidance. In the case of the ball player, effective guidance would sound like, “Ryan, you have to stay here,” “This is your position,” “You have to cover here”, or “It is Sam’s turn, now give him a turn.”


When the situation begins to get out of control, it is time for close direction. When a child is causing problems that have consequences, such as hitting, biting or crying, parents should be right there to step in and direct the child.

In the baseball example, after at most the third time – and especially after his son tackled a child to get the ball — the father should have stopped his child from running for the balls that weren’t his. This father missed an excellent opportunity to teach his son about sharing. By not stepping in, this father taught his child that hogging the ball, and not being a team player, is acceptable. A more effective strategy for this father would have been to stress the child’s role on the team, “Stay here, this is your position. That ball is Jack’s ball to catch.” Given that his child was physically bullying other children to get the ball, he should have gently restrained his son so that the child understood that he needed to stay in his position.

By monitoring, coaching and then directing, parents allow children to demonstrate their sharing skills. Then, when needed, parents are available to step in and guide appropriately. These guidelines also keep parents from overreacting to situations, which can be very unsettling to little children.

Parents should remember that their role is teacher. They should try not to become overly embarrassed and angry when their child displays normal childhood behavior. Parents should look upon these episodes of unacceptable behavior as opportunities, what coaches call “teachable moments,” to help their child learn. Optimizing these teachable moments will, in the long run, help parents to raise kind and giving people.

11 Parenting Tips To Help Your Child Succeed at School

For most parents, sending children to school is a necessity of childrearing. The goal when parents turn their precious children over to the school, be they toddlers or teenagers, is for kids to be safe, comfortable and ready to learn. Too often, parents feel like separate entities from their child’s teacher/s and school. As soon as parents hug their children goodbye in the morning, parenting is put on hold until they collect their kids at the end of the school day; and virtual strangers take over the important parenting/teaching role.

Becoming an active member of the child’s teaching team is an important role for parents that not only encourages the child’s learning, but alleviates some of the anxiety that parents feel as they place their children in the hands of the school. Thinking as a team allows parents to become more involved in their child’s educational experience and opens up good communication between parents and teachers.

Assuming that the school is of quality and the teachers competent, what is the role of the parent in the learning process? It is important for parents to understand their role as members of the team and to respect the boundaries of the school. Parents must also feel confident to step in, on behalf of the child, when situations call for action.

Below are helpful steps for developing a good relationship with the child’s school and parenting with the goal of academic success.

Establish a Set Bedtime Routine

Get kids bathed, and into bed early. It is in the hands of the parents to deliver well rested, fed, happy and bright eyed children to school every morning.

Drop Off is Not for Conferences

Drop off children promptly each morning. Leave the house on time so children are not stressed when they arrive to class. Give a big hug and kiss, give one goodbye, and leave the building. Prolonging goodbyes is upsetting to most children. Good teachers are equipped to handle upset children, and children rarely continue to cry after the parent leaves. By being strong at drop off, the parent models and supports independence.

Drop off time is not the right time for a teacher conference. Drop off is a hectic time for teachers, and parents deserve a teacher’s undivided attention when discussing their children. Teachers are usually very happy to schedule time for parent/teacher conferences at times when they can devote enough time to parent’s concerns. Short e-mails to teachers addressing questions and concerns are usually responded to promptly and with insight and care.

Observe a Class

Make an appointment with your child’s teacher to come into the classroom and observe a part or all of your child’s day. Observing the child’s day allows parents to see the classroom through the child’s eyes and from the perspective of the teacher. Classroom observation also tells the child that his/her parent is interested and concerned.

Get Involved

Make time to volunteer in the classroom or school. Tutoring and chaperoning are great ways to keep a finger on the pulse of the classroom. Volunteering time to the school helps out the school and more importantly demonstrates to children that education is of value.

Create and Follow a Dress Code to Keep the Focus on Learning

Follow the dress code of the school. If the school does not have a dress code, parents can create and enforce an appropriate dress code for the family. Many parents mandate that clothes exposing the upper thighs or buttocks are not appropriate for school. Tight shirts and low cut pants that expose the midriff in any way are also not appropriate for school. The goal is to place the focus on learning and studying not on personal attire. Choose clothes and shoes that children can play, do arts and crafts, run and sit on the floor.

Monitor What Children Bring To School

Toys, video games, electronics, trading cards etc. are not conducive to learning. By monitoring what children bring to school and not allowing children to bring distractions, parents help focus children on learning. It is okay for parents to check backpacks.

Intervene When Appropriate and Be a Child’s Advocate

The parents’ first assumption should be that having chosen a quality school with quality teachers, that their children will be handled appropriately. Situations that arise with behavior, difficulty with subject matter and social issues will in most cases be dealt with professionally and skillfully by the teacher(s).

There will be situations that come up when a parent must step in as the child’s advocate. Parents should listen to both the teacher’s take on the situation as well as the child’s. Parents should be wary of looking for a short term gain at the expense of the long term lesson i.e.: by negotiating grades.

Create an Atmosphere that Supports Homework Completion

Find out what homework assignments have been given and when they are due. Create a comfortable, well lit, quiet location for children to sit and do homework. Be available for questions and assistance, and make sure children complete homework.

Reading to children or with children should be a part of the nightly homework assignment and bedtime ritual. Young children can be held close and read to, or parents can take turns reading to and being read to by older children. Nightly reading should be for pleasure to teach a love of reading. Reading before bedtime will encourage children to use their imaginations and give them the necessary motivation to read for themselves.

Sick Kids Need to Stay in Bed

Keep children at home if they are exhibiting any symptoms that are contagious to others. Check with school policy, but usually fevers, runny noses, vomiting, and diarrhea are all symptoms that should keep children tucked in bed for the day. If parents are vigilant the school stays healthier throughout the year.

Make sure that the school has updated telephone numbers for parents. Children feel more secure too if they memorize mom’s or dad’s cell phone number even if they never need it.

Pack a Healthy Lunch that Delivers High Energy Foods

Pack lunches with healthy foods. Proteins and complex carbohydrates like carrots, cheese, crackers, 100% fruit juice, turkey, sliced fruit are all tasty items for a lunch and will give children sustainable energy for the day.

Dinnertime is the Perfect Time for Discussing the Day

Sitting down to dinner as a family is a great way for parents to connect with children and discover how the day went. Parents can ask questions about school subjects, social interactions, successes and concerns. The family meal should remain upbeat, warm and loving, a haven for the family at the end of the day.

For instance, one mother discovered during dinner that her son was having difficulty understanding the oral instructions for completing reading exercises in a workbook. Knowing that her child was a visual learner, she shot off a quick email to the teacher requesting a visual demonstration of the material in addition to the oral. This simple intervention, based on a mealtime conversation, solved the problem quickly and alleviated what could have been prolonged anxiety.

Parents should not feel intimidated by teachers and administration and should be comfortable discussing their concerns with the appropriate administrative staff. It is beneficial to everyone to be compliant with school policy. By following the above steps, parents can become an important part of their child’s educational experience, their child’s advocate, and feel included in the learning process. In addition, parents will help make their child’s educational experience a positive and non-stressful one. Parents should remember that although their child will be taught by many different teachers over the course of their educational years, parents are ultimately the child’s most important teachers and role models.