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Creating Empathy Through Play

Updated: 1 day ago

This post is for parents and other important educators of children 0-8+ who share the goal of creating more empathy in the world.

When I was a fairly young teacher, volunteering at an ethnic festival, a fellow worker asked me a really great question. One I'll never forget because it was so simple and so profound.

She said, "How DO you teach empathy to young children? It took me back a bit. Although I felt like I taught empathy for a living, I couldn't give her a good answer. That's bothered me ever since.

So for the past 25 years, I’ve been trying to pinpoint some ideas that work to create empathy in very young children. It somehow seems super important now especially since we know that 80% of a child's brain is formed before the age of 3. That includes attitudes, emotions, and the potential to learn and apply new things.

So after 40+ years as a head start teacher, kindergarten teacher, 4-year old teacher, mixed age group center teacher, childcare director, special education aide, before and after school and summer camp teacher, child/parent educator, UU teacher, family aerobics instructor, and proprietor of my own Child Development Home (29 years), I’m suddenly without a day job due to COVID. Plus, I'm an empty nester!

So I've had some time to reflect.

After all of that reflection, I can say two things for sure. Empathy isn’t born of curriculum, activities, or field trips to help feed the hungry. It is born of living with and being around empathetic people day in and day out as well as having the stability of people with empathy sticking around in one's life.

And it's about the adults in charge creating empathy intentionally through both honesty and effort.

I wish I could say that modeling empathic behavior is all that has to be done in order to raise empathetic children. My experience with children and families has taught me otherwise. Sometimes certain children need a little bit more than good role models. They might need some extra help understanding that others have feelings or they might have trouble expressing themselves when they feel wronged. They may have unusual sensory needs.

I’ve seen some truly empathetic parents with some truly unempathetic children and that’s not a pretty family picture. Sometimes completely well-meaning parents miss a critical point or two. That's why It’s important to teach empathy and emotional learning intentionally. No one wants to leave anything out or be unsuccessful at teaching any crucial idea.

Next Monday, I’ll begin to unveil my secrets for teaching empathy gleaned over 40 years as a parent, and a teacher with a BS and MA degrees in education and human development respectively. I've organized them into 10 short lessons for busy parents and other educators to digest.

When you become a community member, the lessons will be delivered to your inbox effortlessly and 100% free!

Open each lesson I send you, and you'll magically get the next one a week later. If you don't have time to read the lesson when it arrives, just open it up so my server won't forget you.

If you're not yet a community member, join here, it's free, the 10 lessons are free and you'll immediately get a slideshow written by me with 21 powerful phrases that help you Get Your Kids To Listen and Like It! as a thank you for signing up. Click here and fill in the pop-up box to get yours or just hang around and read a few blog posts if you're undecided.

The reason I'm giving away the 10 lessons on Creating Empathy Through Play is that I've spent the last year actively watching and listening to parents and teachers of young children. I've focussed on your struggles and your victories.

I've seen you deal with all kinds of uncertainty and grief. I think you deserve something to help you feel good about your parenting and your teaching. If you like what you read, you can use it to spread the word about teaching empathy to others by sharing on social media or with your friends and other childcare providers. You may also be interested in spreading empathy through our family art experience we call The Hand That Rocks Project.

The hand that rocks the cradle truly does rule the world so let’s think really hard about the kind of world we want to live in and work together to create it.

Remember, the ONLY way to get these 10 lessons on creating empathy each week and as soon as they're released is to join my community of parents and other important educators and open the lesson you receive each weekend.

Lesson 1

Listening Like A Pro

Lesson 2

Equip Your Child With A Bully-Proof Vest

Lesson 3

Non-Violent Communication and Setting Boundaries

Lesson 4

Common Mistakes In Teaching Empathy

Lesson 5

Developing a Smart, Happy, Problem-Solving Attitude in Children

Lesson 6

Empathy and Sensory Needs

Lesson 7

Anti-Racist and Anti-Bias Experiences for the Very Young

Lesson 8

Developing An Appreciative Mindset

Lesson 9

Destroying Shame and Eradicating Blame

Lesson 10

Assertiveness and the Power to Enact Change


Nanci J. Bradley is a child and family educator, parent, author, family aerobics instructor, and all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, lifelong learning, healthy eating, fun, and more than anything else, PLAY! She studied early childhood education at Triton College and received her BA in education from Northern Illinois University in 1986. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison, WI.

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