Empathy: The Formula for Handling Fusses and Fits

The word empathy is one that is often used at the Weekday School. Empathy is so much more than those sweet moments when we witness a young child engaging in an act of kindness. While those acts of kindness are so important to our communities, brain research suggests that offering empathy has a long-term impact on brain development and problem solving. When we offer empathy to our children, we open the door to being aware of strong emotions so that children can learn to regulate their  emotions, ultimately learning that they alone are responsible for how they choose to respond in moments of upset.

Empathy requires what is known as the Power of Acceptance: accepting the moment as it is. This is in contrast to denying the moment and focusing on what should be. (He knows better…. we don’t throw toys in the house…) When we notice the moment as it is, without judging it, we then have the opportunity to reframe the situation in order to see it as a child (or even another adult) would! This does not mean that we necessarily agree that it is ok for our children to throw toys or write on the walls; it simply means that we pause and accept the situation for what it is before moving on to offer guidance. While pausing, it is helpful to remember that the actions of a child are forms of communication. Young children need the opportunity to practice identifying emotions and ways to regulate those emotions so that they can move on to problem solving.

When we are faced with a situation where someone has done or said something that invokes strong emotions, it is vital that we acknowledge those feelings. Again, acknowledging our feelings falls under the power of acceptance. It is then that we can pivot to offer empathy, and turn a difficult moment into a teachable one. The formula for offering empathy is as follows:

  1. Describe: Mirror the child’s physical actions. “Your feet are going like this, and your face is going like this.” The child will most likely stop to look at you so they can be sure that you got it “right.”
  2. Name: We must act quickly here to help the child move into problem solving mode, and so they do not become their emotions.

“You seem                                                                                                     (add a feeling word)?”

  1. Acknowledge: Again, we want to act quickly after we name the emotion for the child. “You wanted  (state what you think the child wanted).” If we hang out too long in the naming portion of the formula, we can get stuck there!

When addressing the child’s feelings, it is helpful to use a tentative, almost questioning tone of voice. If we have labeled the emotion incorrectly, the child will most likely tell you! “No, I’m not feeling sad. I’m feeling angry!” Allowing the child to acknowledge or correct serves two purposes: the first is that it sends the message that the child’s feelings are valid, and secondly, it gives the child the opportunity to move toward the pre-frontal cortex, or CEO of the brain. The goal here is not to distract the child from his or her emotions, but to understand in order to teach the child another way of getting his or her needs met.

If the child is, kicking, and yelling, and does not respond to you, it is best to offer comfort in the way of deep breathing, or even picking the child up to keep them safe. At that moment, the child is in a survival state, and will not be able to hear your message. If the child is in a state of upset (crying, name calling, or they have their arms crossed), then you can offer the formula above. Some children can exhibit signs of mild upset through whining, looking slightly anxious, or showing confusion if they have experienced a change in schedule. This is the best time to offer empathy in the form of information.

  • Mom: “Max, you seem worried?” (Again, remembering to use a tentative voice so he can correct you if you haven’t gotten it right!)
  • Max: “Yeah”
  • Mom: “You were hoping to keep playing with your blocks. I get it. Today feels different because Grandma is coming over to take you to the library. You have a choice! You can choose to put your blocks away first, or put your shoes on first. What will you choose?”

Our brains are wired with more pathways travelling from the Limbic system to the pre-frontal cortex. This simply means that strong emotions, if left unregulated, can dictate how we respond in difficult situations. The good news with composure and empathy is that we can pause to acknowledge those feelings, and pivot to offer guidance so we can teach our children a different way of getting their needs met when the going gets tough!



Bailey, B. (2015). Building Resilient Classrooms. Oviedo, Florida: Loving Guidance, Inc.

Parlakian, R., & Lerner, C. (2009). Tips on helping your child develop empathy. Retrieved from http://www.zerotothree.org/child-development/social-emotional-development/take-a-walk-in-my-shoes.html?referrer=https://www.google.com/



You Have a Choice!

You may be wondering why offering choices to children is important. The act of making choices is a life skill that is best practiced when the consequences of those choices are relatively minor (i.e., when children are still at home and school with adults who help keep them safe). Making decisions can be overwhelming, and by offering simple choices to our children, we help them build on that skill as the choices they do, and will make, become more complex. If we do not offer the opportunity for children to make choices throughout their early childhood, middle school, high school, college years, and early adulthood can become very challenging times. Young adults who have not practiced making decisions and have not experienced consequences of those decisions can be ill equipped to navigate the quick decisions that adults must make at times. Another benefit of offering choices is that children who regularly practice making decisions develop an internal locus of control; they begin to understand that they are responsible for the consequences that come as a result of the choices they make.

There are times in which adults cannot offer choices to children. Because children do not possess the inner speech that adults do, they are not able to process consequences of their choices. A child may be able to tell you that a stove is hot, but they will not be thinking through to the consequence when they reach for a hot cookie that has just come out of the oven. Situations like these pose no choice; it’s simply not safe to touch a hot stove! Another situation such as going to the grocery store is also not a choice. In this instance, it is not helpful to say, “We’re going to the grocery store, okay?” The child, hearing the “okay” might think, “No, it’s not okay. I think I’ll stay home and play with my blocks.”

It is also not beneficial to offer choices to a child when he/she is in a state of upset.  If a child is in a “fight or flight” mode, he can’t hear an adult.  He will need to breathe, feel calmer, and be in a place to listen.  At that time, the adult can provide the child with two positive choices. These choices should be centered on what we as adults want the child TO do.  For example, it is bedtime and pajamas must be on and teeth must be brushed before getting into bed.  An adult might say, “It is time for bed.  You may brush your teeth first or put on your pajamas first.  What works for you?”  The goal is to get to bed, so the choices center around what must happen prior to that.  Notice that both choices are positive and acceptable to the adult.  “Put your pajamas on or lose reading time” would be an example of a coercive, punitive choice.  To be helpful to the child, the adult’s intent must be on how best to help the child be successful in the current situation based on his/her immediate needs.

And, what if the child does not comply?  If the “No’s” continue, the adult can calmly (that’s the trick!) repeat the choices.  If the child chooses, the adult will verbally respond by stating, “Look at you! You made a choice.”  If the child does not make a choice, the adult may say, “I see you are having a hard time making a choice.  I will help you.”  At this point, the adult may choose for the child.

Other adults who overhear you offering choices might comment that it sounds as though parents are pandering or bargaining with their children. In these cases, it can be helpful to state that you are teaching your child how to make choices. In reality, children are far more likely to achieve success when they are in control of how they follow through on a task or activity.

Learning how to make decisions is a lifelong skill! As with any other skill such as reading, math, or music, the more we practice, the more comfortable we become with this skill. Offering choices, and supporting our children in their decision making and subsequent consequences is a valuable investment in their sense of self.

Wishing you days filled with opportunities to offer positive choices to your children.


Encouragement: Going Beyond “Good Job!”

As adults, we have the unique opportunity to shape the way in which children view themselves by offering encouragement. The manner in which encouragement is delivered will have a profound impact on how a child views his or her accomplishments and place within society. If we give encouragement in the form of judgements (“Good job!”, “You are so good!”), we are creating a divide between those who are “good” and those who sense that they are “less than.” Another aspect of general, evaluative praise is that children soon learn that when they do well in school or perform helpful acts, they please others. This robs them of the intrinsic benefits that come with being a contributing member of society.

Think about the ways that you may have received encouragement as a child, or even in the present day. Did you receive praise when you scored a goal in soccer or after receiving an A on a book report? What did that sound like? Many adults can tell you that they may have heard, “good job,” and they may have received a sticker or prize for their efforts. Now recall a time when you made an unsafe choice, and how the adults in your life responded to you. Typically, the feedback we would have received would have highlighted how our poor choice affected others (“You have done nothing but whine all day. You have ruined your brother’s birthday for everyone.”) Many of us were raised with an evaluative, two-second response when we were successful, but received a stern lecture that could last for several minutes when we made poor choices or needed help from an adult! If we spend more time noticing a child’s successes and efforts, not only are we more likely to see more of those behaviors, we are instilling why that child’s successes and efforts contribute to their families, friends, and communities.

Authentic encouragement requires that we be present in the moment and notice the child’s efforts with specific language which describes what the child did. A very basic formula to use is as follows:

  • You  (describe exactly what you see.)
  • Example: “You got your jacket off of the hook and put it on!”

To foster and nurture helpful acts:

  • You  so                                                          . That was helpful/kind.
  • Example: “You helped your sister pick up her crayons so we could keep the floor safe. That was helpful!”

For the children who need encouragement when they are “stuck” or have made a poor decision:

  • “You almost have all of the Legos back in the bin. Two more and you are done!”
  • “Oops! Your books go on the bookshelf. Which one will you pick up first?”
  • “Remember, you can get your sister’s attention by saying her name, and touching her arm gently.”

Consider starting your journey with specific encouragement by eliminating, “good job” and replacing it with the basic formula for noticing children’s actions. Doing so will help children rely upon their own innate gifts rather than seeking the approval of others. Concurrently eliminating extrinsic rewards during this process also shifts the focus to children’s natural need to be contributing members of our communities. Last but certainly not least, remember to encourage when children perhaps need it the most! Children who are in need of an adult or peer who voices their belief in them are more apt to be successful, and will offer encouragement to someone else in need. May your Christmas be filled with the gift of encouraging words.






Assertiveness: Saying No and Being Heard

The skill of assertiveness teaches respect. It is vital that we speak assertively so that our children feel safe. When an adult speaks using a tone of confidence and no doubt, he or she creates the sense that “all is well. Mommy and/or Daddy is going to keep me safe.” Conversely, if we speak from a passive tone, our children may not know what to do and they probably will not feel safe because it does not carry the message of “I’ve got this; you are safe with me” from the adult(s) in their life.

It is imperative that we describe exactly what we want the child to do versus stating what we do not want.  For example, if a child is running in the house an assertive statement would sound like, “Ava, walk through the house like this.” as we model what safe walking looks like. If we approach the situation by stating, “Ava, please don’t run in the house, okay?” we have focused on what we do not want while speaking in a passive tone. Please and okay are words that convey that there is a choice in the situation. When we use these words when no choice exists, we create confusion for children. Use words such as please and thank you when a child has a choice of whether to follow through on an action or task. If it’s not an expectation for a child to follow through on a task, you could state, “James, are you willing to bring that paper to me?” If the child agrees and follows through, then we would add, “Thanks! That was helpful!”

Aggressive statements are equally as confusing for children, and are more so confusing when we combine them with a tone of passivity. Statements such as, “I guess you don’t care about getting hurt,” or, “Do you want to get lost in this store?” both carry aggressive and confusing messages that do not give our children any information they can use to solve a problem.

The way to teach assertiveness is by being assertive:

  • Tell children what to do. Ex.  “Maddie, put the puzzles on the shelf.” Gesturing to the puzzles and pointing to the shelf while you are speaking provides a helpful visual for young children.
  • Use a ‘just do it’ tone in your voice, speak with confidence.
  • Be clear, direct, specific.

For the child who is having a hard time getting started on a task, we can offer the following assertive statements:

  • “I’m going to show you what to do.”
  • “I’m going to show you how to get started.”
  • “How can I help you get started?”

When we notice the child following through it is equally as important to notice and describe the child’s actions. Something as simple as, “You’re doing it!” goes a long way in reinforcing the assertive messages we send to our children.

Children learn concepts, skills and behaviors through repetition. These concepts and skills often include rituals such as leaving the house, getting dressed, or washing our hands. We as adults sometimes take these rituals for granted as they have become second nature to us.  Keeping in mind that repetition is key, we must be willing to provide time for repeated practice and modeling.

Wishing you well as you give the gift of assertiveness to your children.


Composure: When Your Kids are Making You Nuts

We have all had those moments when it seems as though others are out to derail our day. It seems as though our friends, spouses, and children are intent on destroying any plans or any inner harmony and peace we are experiencing. We mention the word seems because while those feelings and perceptions are strong, we are ultimately in charge of ourselves! Our own perceptions regarding of past events plays a big role in how we process the behaviors of others. Think of these perceptions as a CD-ROM, or a tape cassette. This CD-ROM or tape cassette can carry a multitude of negative messages, and those messages can derail us in a short amount of time.  The result is that we may often lose our composure and veer further away from problem solving. The good news with the skill of composure is that we can pause, allow the CD-ROM to play, and ready ourselves to communicate what we want our children to do.

Our CD-ROMs begin to play when something sets off, or triggers, the CD-ROM’s switch. Think about some triggers you might have: children and adults who whine, traffic, people who run late, etc… The playing CD-ROM then cues the negative internal chatter which can cause us to feel frightened or out of control. These emotions trigger feelings of actual physical discomfort before the feeling of anger steps in and we lose our cool. When that occurs, we have allowed our trigger and the child to be in charge of our internal state! In these moments, we typically focus on the behavior(s) we do not want to continue! Again, the good news is that our brains are malleable, and we can add new “tracks” to our CD-ROMS so that we are better able to solve problems. Perhaps the best aspect of rewriting our CD-ROMS is that we are able to teach our children how to address anger and upset so that we can move into problem solving mode rather than getting stuck.

When events that trigger your CD-ROM occur, allow the CD-ROM to play while thinking, “I’m safe, I can handle this, keep breathing.” Allow yourself the opportunity to take three deep breaths so that you can access the prefrontal lobes of your brain. This also allows a pause so that you can deliver your message from a composed state versus a state of upset. Incorporating statements such as, “I feel frustrated when you interrupt me.” allows us to convey our message while being in a composed state. I feel statements are powerful tools to use, and our children will notice and will begin to use this language, too! Re-wiring our CD-ROM is truly a gift to ourselves and our children!


Bailey. B. (2015). Building Resilient Classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance, Inc.



You Will Not Hear it From Us!

Many of us grew up hearing the phrase, “You’re okay!” from the people in our lives.  As adults, we sometimes take for granted the meaning behind the words we use. Some of the words used to define the term are, “fairly good; acceptable; not ill, hurt, or unhappy.”  (Retrieved September 28, 2015 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/okay).  When a child is crying because they are hurt or because they are having a hard time saying goodbye, they are definitely not feeling satisfactory! Although our well-intentioned comments may seem to thwart the upset in the short term, it can convey something completely different to the child in the long-term.

Saying “You’re okay” can cause semantic confusion for children as they are learning new words to use in the speaking vocabulary! Instead, practice noticing and describing what you see. For example, use the following: “Your hands are going like this (clinging on to Mom). Your eyes are going like this (I see tears coming from your eyes.)” When the child feels understood, they may begin to cry harder. Empathy is a wonderful tool for helping children understand very powerful feelings. At this point, we can now acknowledge what has caused the state of upset, “It’s hard to say goodbye in the morning. I will be back.” Another example might be, “You were hoping to be the first one to the car, but your sister got there first. You can handle this!”

Young children’s language and vocabulary growth is heavily reliant upon their environment. If we teach a crying child who is hurt that they are “okay,” they come to understand that someone can be okay when they are clearly hurting! A second reason you will not hear, “You’re okay” at the Weekday School is that, again, although the phrase is given with well wishes, it actually skips over what the child is feeling at that moment. One of the goals of any social-emotional curriculum/philosophy is to help children learn about emotional states. We can do this by talking about emotions through the use of pictures, but, more importantly, we can discuss them as children are feeling them. Through this, we are actively modeling empathy, and helping our children develop and hone information regarding emotions!

For more information about language development, please click on the following link: http://www.readingrockets.org/article/young-childrens-oral-language-development

For more information about acknowledging children’s emotions, please click on the following link:



Merriam-Webster. (2015). Dictionary. Retrieved September 28 2015 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/okay


The Importance of Rituals and Routines

We’ve often heard people say, “I just need to get back into routine” after an extended absence or a deviation from the norm. Routines have a way of defining our day, and for many of us, they create order and stability. For our children stability equates to safety. Imagine living life not knowing what task or meeting was coming next? It would make prioritizing and planning quite difficult, wouldn’t it? Our children need to prioritize and plan, too.

Our curriculum supports teaching routines within the first few days and weeks of school, and to re-teach as often as necessary. There are routines for every situation you can imagine: entering the classroom, washing hands, lining up to visit the playground, etc. Routines provide a safe context in which our students and children navigate their days. (Bailey, B., 2015). (Wong, H., & Wong, R., 2009).  You may notice that we post routines in our rooms in pictures with accompanying text. These posted routines provide the “how to” or reminder for our children as they are learning and practicing routines. Once we know the routines, we are all free to think about the ideas and concepts that have caught our attention!

Rituals are the glue that binds our school family together. We have rituals for Morning Meeting, absent children, greetings, and goodbyes, and the list goes on! Again rituals promote safety for both adults and children alike. There is comfort in knowing that you can count on your teachers and peers to take time to greet you in the way that is comfortable to you, or that you know there will always be a very special ritual when leaving the playground. Rituals bind us as a community, and create connectivity in our classrooms. A connected classroom is a productive and peaceful classroom.

We wish you well as you learn new routines and rituals within your child’s school family. If you don’t already have hello and goodbye rituals in place in your home, perhaps this is the year that you introduce them. A special high five or handshake is creates a powerful moment for families as they go in different directions during their busy days!


Bailey, B., (2015). Building Resilient Classrooms. Oviedo, Florida: Loving Guidance, Inc.

Wong, H. & Wong, R. (2009). The First Days of School. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, Inc.

Weekday School Office Closed During the Month of July

The Weekday School office will be closed July 1 – July 31.  We shall return on August 3.  You are welcome to send us an email and we will respond when we return.

First Days of School 2015 2016

Our first days of school for the 2015 2016 school year will be September 8 and September 9!

Meet Our Teachers for the 2015 2016 School Year

Families are invited to come and meet our teachers on Friday, September 4, 2015.   Come anytime between the hours of 9:30 and 12:00.  There will be information about our school set up in Loudoun Hall.  We will also have members of the Weekday School Team available to answer any questions you may have.  Looking forward to seeing our returning families as well as those new to our school family!

116 South Loudoun St. Winchester, VA 22601