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The Empathy Lab

Updated: Dec 26, 2021

A very warm welcome to all my new followers and a big hello to everyone who's been here a while. You deserve some really cool and really fun ideas for producing more empathy and less bias in the world. You might also have a few of your own you’d like to share with us!

After all, the hand that rocks the cradle really does rule the world. I've been working on that premise for my entire 43+year career in early childhood and parent education. I want to make a difference. Since perhaps 80% of a human’s brain connections are made before the age of 3, I know that early childhood is the best place for me to do so.

Since you’re already VIPs (Very Important Providers and Parents) or you wouldn’t have stopped by to read this article about creating empathy, you probably feel the same way as I do.

At the end of this short article, I'm going to ask you to join me in my community. Why? I really want to hear from you guys and learn about what you need as parents, early childhood teachers, and administrators. We need to build each other up. And now is a better time than any other.

If you’re already a member, keep your eyes peeled because I’ll be opening a member’s only message board soon which I”m hoping will be a great place to share what we’ve learned.

OK, are you ready for the most important thing to do with your very young children if you want to teach them to care about others? It’s not rocket science but it can easily be overlooked by caring caretakers and not so caring caretakers alike. Especially during times of stress. Here it is:

Talk with them about their own feelings from birth but especially between the ages of 1 and 3. Once they start to understand their own, start to talk with them about the feelings of others.

Describe what you see and remember not to pass judgement. “All feelings are OK, all actions (and some words) are not.” Be sure to separate the two.


Your mouth is going down like this and your hands are clenched. It looks like you’re sad or mad. Maybe a little of both.

I see a girl by the swing who’s yelling at her mom. Do you think she’s angry because she doesn’t want to leave? I hope she’ll feel better after lunch and a rest.

You’re smiling and jumping up and down! You must feel excited about going to the park.

Your forehead is going like this and your mouth is making a frown like this. It looks like you don’t feel ready to leave the park and I get it. Parks are fun. I’ll give you 2 more minutes to play and then we’ll leave, even if you’re sad about it.

I see you might feel super sad to leave the park. Two minutes are up so I can carry you or you can walk. What would work better for you?

That boy looks like he might be afraid to pet that big doggie. His eyes look big and he's moving away. Maybe after he watches for a while, he'll feel more like trying to pet or play with the dog.

Make sure to include people of all different kinds in your conversations. All people have feelings. Many of those feelings are like our own. Never lump people together in a group but speak of them as individuals. This is the start of an anti-bias attitude

Real people in the world, books, publications, advertisements all create examples of people who express feelings which supply great opportunities for conversations.

One important thing to note is that some children need a little bit of social coaching in order to understand feelings and others need a lot. Here's a link to a CDC website for developmental milestones that you might find helpful if you have questions or you want to see if your child is on the right track.

"From an evolutionary standpoint, empathy is a valuable impulse that helps humans survive in groups."

Jessica Alexander, The Danish Art of Parenting (2016)

Want to know what the very best parents say when their kids refuse to clean up? hit? question authority? Find out here.

This 21-page slideshow is free to community members and you get it instantly when youjoin us. Do you believe in the power of play? Do you think that emotions spark learning? Then you are in the right place! Welcome and get to know us here!

Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, SELF-care facilitator, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human development from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI.

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