Toddler Empathy

This post is the first in a series called “500 Words To Save The World.” Each day I will use just 500 words to address a problem that has been bugging you or me. If you want to get in on the conversation, tell me the problem you’d like discussed in the comments section of this post, or email me directly at You may start counting words… now!


Yesterday, after asking folks to “send me your problems,” I received a message from a long-time reader in Texas who wrote:

Being a parent yourself please tell me, how do I get my 5 year old and 3 year old (both girls) to get along for more than 5 minutes?


I had a heavier topic planned for today, but after reading this I couldn’t shake it.

Small children, on the surface, appear to us adults like little “Jekyll & Hydes.” Sitting on your lap reading a book they are the sweetest things in the world; however moments later they can issue a completely credible murder threat to a younger sibling over something as small as a liquid-filled fruit snack. (Our boys refer to these as “fruit zits,” but I digress.)

As they age, they get (a little) better at expressing their thoughts, feelings and desires, but at three and five this is something they cannot yet do…alone.

So what is a parent to do when, the little creatures they love more than anything treat each other like characters on The Sopranos?


This is where this mysterious thing called parenting kicks in, and although I’ve never done exactly what I am about to suggest, my wife and I have had luck with similar approaches.

  1. Get nine pieces of paper or index cards (per child).
  2. On the first three pieces of paper write “I don’t like it when [sibling name]”
  3. On the next three write “I wish [sibling name] would”
  4. On the last three write, “I wish [sibling name] knew”

Sit with each child separately and bring up a recent “incident.” Ask how he or she felt about that situation, and then help them fill in each of the cards about the sibling in question.

When this is done, sit them down together and “play” the card game. There is no wining or losing, but everybody gets the same say and they will each learn a great deal about the other. There is no discussion while the cards are being played, only sharing and listening.

This is much more art exhibit than trial.


When it is over, each child takes the cards that bear their name (even if they can’t read) as a reminder that the other sibling has feelings too.

I can’t promise that this will end the fighting, but it will help them develop the empathy for others that is so lacking in modern society.

A friend from high school posts things about her kids on Facebook, and last week she posted this note between her two girls who are eight and ten.

The names of the two girls have been blurred to protect the guilty.

The names of the two girls have been blurred to protect the guilty.


If a five and three year old are communicating like this by the time they are eight and ten, then you are doing something right.

Children learn how to interact with others at home, and if you can teach them that love comes first, and everything else it just details, they will be the next generation that we are all hoping for.


Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.(Toddler Empathy)

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One thought on “Toddler Empathy

  • Steve,

    Thank you for the advice. I will try it and check back in. Parenting is a very special and tricky responsibility. Every time that I discipline or teach my children, I always ask myself, will this help them grow up to be productive and caring adults? Or did I just completely messed them up? I am hoping for the former. 🙂

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