Wonder Crate Q&A With Best Selling Author Bob Sornson

Why is it so important for young children to develop empathy?

Empathy is the foundation for all social-emotional intelligence.  It is the foundation upon which all social skills are developed. If you are unable to notice the feelings, behaviors, and situational responses of others, you have no way to “read” people, and determine what might be a good response based on their feelings and needs. Before developing empathy, kids must develop the capacity to regulate themselves, including self-calming and delaying gratification.  Kids who are unregulated are all about ME, and can’t look beyond their own needs to see the needs of others.  Only when you are calm and strong on the inside do you get skilled at looking beyond your own needs to see what’s going on with others. Children who are fortunate to feel safe and connected in the home are far more likely to develop both self-regulation and empathy.  That is why it is crucial for parents to build a predictable, loving, calm family life in which kids can flourish.

How does empathy enhance school success?

The simplest answer is that kids who get along well with others will have a happier life at school, play well with others, get along better with their teachers, choose not to bully, and help others build a respectful classroom and school culture. Emotional intelligence is a good predictor of success in life.  Some researchers say it is a significantly better predictor of success on the job and in relationships than IQ.  School success, just like success on the job, involves dealing with people.  Given the importance of collaboration in the workplace, you could say that empathy and social skills are important as pre-requisite skills for employment.

What can parents do to reinforce empathy in the home?

Here is my advice to parents:

Empathy is the foundation of all healthy relationships.   Here are some tips for developing an empathetic family culture:

  1. Start by building a family environment in which your children feel safe and secure.  Children who are highly stressed or afraid of physical or emotional harm give attention to their own well-being, and have less ability to notice the well-being of others.
  2. Family routines build a sense of predictable security for children.  Well established routines also help your kids practice self-regulation skills as they learn how to wait calmly, persist, focus, and delay gratification.    Consistent, calm routines for morning, bedtime, family meals and chores help children learn how things work in your family.
  3. Help children develop listening and observation skills by taking time for family meetings, family meals without tech distractions, and family adventures.
  4. Self-regulation skills are the foundation for empathy.  Don’t take self-regulation skills for granted.  Find ways to purposefully help children learn to be calm and strong on the inside.
  5. Consider developing a clear set of expectations for how you wish to treat each other in your family.  Take time to talk about it.  Respectful speech and behavior build a powerful sense of connection.
  6. Use great literature and tell stories about the people you admire to inspire kids to understand the experiencesof others.
  7. Model empathy.  Your kids are watching!
  8. Relationships matter. Empathy is the ability to understand how someone feels, but caring about others precedes giving effort to noticing the experience and feelings of others.  Encourage your children to build relationships which inspire them to trust and care for others.

How can children use empathy to make the world a better place?

First kids need to understand that empathy makes their own lives better.  Caring enough to notice others opens the door to relationships and building a sense of community.  We are all better off when we live in a safe and secure environment, and that only happens when we notice and care for each other.

Empathy is needed to build friendships.

Empathy is necessary for building safe, respectful organizations or communities.

Empathy is part of being a good teammate, soulmate, or parent.

Empathy is opening up your heart to care enough to really want to understand others.

Empathy is key to our survival as human beings.

Tell us about the Early Learning Foundation and the work being done to improve student learning outcomes. 

At the Early Learning Foundation we work with schools and with parents to help give every child a chance to be a successful lifelong learner  This includes the development of basic language and motor skills, as well as building the foundation for academic and social learning.  The amazing thing about child development is that all the domains of learning (social-emotional, motor, language, literacy, numeracy, and behavior) are intricately related in basic neurology and function.  Kids that are not able to self-regulate (be calm, focused, persistent, able to delay gratification) are less likely to learn to read or do math.  Kids without basic oral language skills are more likely to struggle with social skills and reading. Our work focuses on developing the whole child, giving every child the time and support needed to achieve competency in every essential skill, and developing systems that support teachers and students working together in a safe, respectful environment.  Most schools prioritize “covering” all the grade level material using a one-size-fits-all instructional model.  That model crushes vulnerable kids, and fails to maximize learning for everyone.  The Early Learning Foundation works to change that model in schools across the nation and around the globe.

Need some more ways to practice empathy with your child? Our February crate, “I Can Understand How Other People Feel: An Empathy Box”  is full of fun and empowering activities and ideas for practicing empathy with your child and includes Bob Sornson’s book “Stand in My Shoes”.

About the author: Bob Sornson is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation and is a former classroom teacher and school administrator. He works with schools and education organizations across the country, focusing primarily on developing comprehensive programs that support early learning success. He has published several books including “Stand in My Shoes”.


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