Five Ways to Build Empathy in Tiny Humans

42215144_307384776526405_9036432498669649920_oBy: Alyssa Blask Campbell, Founder of Seed & Sew

Social/emotional learning has become pretty buzzwordy, and I’m so glad to see a focus away from content and into skill sets for our tiny humans. However, most of the time when we are talking about social/emotional development, we are focused on just the social part. We want to raise kind, empathetic, respectful kiddos, but the thing is, we cannot work on the social aspects, without first tackling emotional intelligence. What is emotional intelligence anyway? It is made up of three different components: self-awareness, empathy, and social awareness.

A colleague and I created the Collaborative Emotion Processing (CEP) Method that we researched and are writing a book on now. We dive into what’s happening in the brain and how to build every area of emotional intelligence, but for now, let’s tackle empathy. Imagine a world without bullying, assault, or school shootings. How do we put an end to those things? What does that world look like? I think our key is empathy. We do not have to agree with someone’s opinion, but the ability to understand and share someone’s feelings, man, I believe that can change the world. So let’s foster that development together with five ways to build empathy in our tiny humans.

1) Tell your child one thing you love about their character “I love that you help your sister buckle in her high chair for dinner.” We often focus on kids meeting goals or give them compliments on appearance, but highlighting positive character traits can encourage them to value them, as well. Look for times when they are being kind, helpful, respectful, supportive, etc and highlight those. “I saw your share that toy when you were finished with it. I bet that helped her feel happy when she got a turn, too.”

2) The 4:1 ratio. We are aiming for 4 positive comments to every 1 negative for our tiny humans. This can be hard because we are often used to speaking up when we want to change or fix something, but this habit can go a looooong way! We behave according to who we think we are. If we are told that we are kind, creative, helpful, respectful, loving, fun, or caring that’s who we grow to be. If we hear that we are rude, dumb, slow, incapable, or annoying that’s who we grow to be. Our aim is 4 positive things to every 1 negative that a child hears. Our words matter and it can be so hard to be intentional when we are caught in the whirlwind of life. Slow down. Pause for three minutes before dinner to play and praise your littles for the amazing humans they are; if you won’t, who will?

3) Pause to say I love you; it’s impossible to spoil them our babies with love. You can never say those three words too much, I promise. Let me tell you a story. A 6-year-old boy who had bounced from one foster family to another, totaling four in his short time on this earth, found himself in a 1st-grade classroom at circle time with an infant as the focus of the morning meeting. After a while, he asked if he could hold her, with hesitation on her heart the teacher passed her precious baby to this little boy. The infant started to cry and the boy naturally swayed her back and forth in his arms as she calmed. He looked up to the teacher and asked, “If no one has ever loved you, do you think you can be a good Daddy when you grow up?” We assume these kiddos know they’re loved because of what we provide, but please never ever stop saying it to them.

4) Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. We were playing on the beach when he came up to smash the sand castle she worked so hard to build. As I saw his leg wind up, I stopped it from crashing down on her creation. “I won’t let you smash her castle. She worked really hard to make that.” He looked at me, surprised and wordless. Then he tried again. I repeated my response and followed it up with, “Put yourself in her shoes. How would you feel if you worked so hard to build something and she crashed it down?” “Sad,” he replied. “Stomping on sand castles is really fun. Would you like to build one together that you could crash?” “YEAH!” he exclaimed as he ran to grab a bucket. We can encourage kids to put themselves in someone else’s shoes starting in toddlerhood, yes even as young as one year old! “I wonder how that would feel?” “Yeah, I hear that child crying, too. I wonder what they’re feeling.” Model it as an adult. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and say it out loud. “I saw her walking with that big stroller so I held the door for her. If I was her, I’d want someone to help me, too.” When you get caught off in traffic instead of all the curse words you’re thinking try, “I wonder what that person is in such a hurry to get to. I hope everything is okay.” These littles will listen to what you do model infinitely more than what you tell them to do. Lead by example.

5) Read books about emotional development and highlight emotions in all books. You can pause on a page and say, “That person looks sad. I wonder how we could help them feel happy if we were there.” “I might feel embarrassed if I was in her shoes. How do you think I could feel calm again if it were me?” Talk about what it might be like to be in that person’s shoes. Discuss how you could support that person if you were there. Train their brains to think empathetically. I created an emotional development book list if you need a place to start. You can snag it here. (

Ready to get started? Pick one of the five to start with and integrate into your everyday life. You do not have to walk away and try to implement all five of these at once; that won’t be sustainable. Find one that is an area of growth for you and tackle that one first! Head on over to on Instagram or join our Facebook community Seed & Sew: Voices of Your Village where parents, caregivers, and teachers get to collaborate with experts in the field of early childhood so we can work together to raise emotionally intelligent humans. Tune into the Voices of Your Village podcast for in-depth conversations on all things tiny human at or on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Google Play. We have tons of free resources for you at (, too! If you’re ready to build your toolbox and raise emotionally intelligent humans, we have a seat at the table for you!


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