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The New Empathy

Updated: Feb 22



Have you read any headlines lately? Do they make you want to change the world? If you’re in charge of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and you have any say at all in their development, you hold the power to do so.


And you deserve to have all the tools you need at your fingertips and presented in a way that ordinary people, not just psychologists, can decipher.

that's where The Empathy Lab can help.

After 43+ years of higher education and real\hands-on work with real live infants, toddlers, preschoolers, after schoolers, and their families, I can break it down for you and make sense of some of the research that’s being done and also how to make that research work with real live children in real-life early childhood settings


One of the problems I see over and over again with parents and teachers is that they know they should be teaching their kids to problem-solve but it’s not at all as easy as it may sound. My advice, as usual, is to start with problem-solving as early as possible since so many more neural connections are being formed (and pruned) in the early years than ever again during our lifespans.


In light of all of this, I have a group of phrases that I use often with the very youngest of children. They sound like this:


When the child says, Oh! Oh!, yells, screams or cries for help, I say….


Is there a problem? I see…. Should we fix it or leave it alone? Can you fix it? Should I help you fix it?



Saying these things avoids the question of blame altogether. It really doesn’t matter who’s fault it is. Although we can do things and say things to help us avoid this problem in the future, blaming someone now won’t fix anything. Blaming contributes to the kind of mindset that blames others, too.


This can lead to all kinds of bias, hateful thinking, and even crime. You can read more I’ve written about blame here.


It’s true that in some situations, it’s better for the adult to fix it later, or for the children to allow the adult some space to work on it (Like when the toilet overflows due to hundreds of dollars worth of cosmetics being flushed by the toddler of a childcare director I once worked with.)



By the way, we don’t have to say, “it’s ok” to every problem. Problems hold different weights. Although the flushing toddler wouldn’t be helped by a punishment because of his age and his lack of understanding about money, vanity, or plumbers, he shouldn’t be left entirely off the hook.


This happened so long ago, I don’t remember what she said to the child but I would hope that she gave him an "I" message.


I’m frustrated about my make-up being ruined and the toilet being broken for now. You choose to do that without asking me and I’m not happy with that choice. From now on I”m going to make sure that you’re not in the bathroom without me, even for a second.

I want you to play with toys in the bathtub, not my makeup in the toilet.


Development says that the child was drawn to the water and the mystery of what makeup really is and decided to see if it would float, sink or swim. It’s a learning process as is all behavior so I can see why it happened. Children are always drawn to learning. That’s why they play.


So, trying to make the child feel bad with punishment just isn't going to work. Letting him know that his actions have logical consequences will.


Mommy’s frustrated with what I did and she doesn't look happy. I can’t go into the bathroom without her now.


Providing an appropriate venue for the water activity he was drawn to will also help the problem.


Because…..All behavior is learning and children are drawn to learning like fish to water. Think about that before you make your next decision about toddler behavior.


Have a great day! You deserve it.


If you want more information on how to say things to children, join our community here.

You’ll immediately get my 22-page slideshow, How To Get Your Kids To Listen Without Yelling Or Time-Outs, for free.



You’ll love it, it’s a condensation of some of my best ideas that really work and it’s easy to use in response to problems that occur in parenting.



Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, 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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