Teaching Our Kids to Empathize

20 Jan 2015

In the past couple of parshas we read about Moshe, Aaron and Miriam caring for one another and working together. It is a beautiful example of what siblings can do if they get along!

Unfortunately, as most parents know, siblings don’t always get along. Most siblings fight; they roughhouse, tease and belittle each other. In an effort to promote harmony we might say things like: “How would you like it if your sister hit or teased you?”

But the question doesn’t generally work with kids. It makes them feel as if they are being attacked and it doesn’t help them generate feelings of empathy for their siblings. The only answer kids can give to that question will implicate themselves and force them to admit their guilt. Kids and even adults have a hard time doing that. To help children develop empathy for others, and truly understand how another person feels, it is better to use the phrase, “I am sure you can imagine…”

For example:

Instead of:

How would you like it if you got a bad grade and your brother made fun of you?


I am sure you can imagine how angry and hurt you would be if you got a bad grade and your brother made fun of you.

Instead of:

How dare you hit your sister! How would you like it if someone hit you?

Try this:

Getting hit hurts us and makes us angry. I am sure you can imagine the pain you would feel if someone hit you.

Instead of:

Stop making fun of your sister that she was not invited to her friend’s party. How would you like it if you weren’t invited to a party?

Try this:

I am sure you can imagine how alone you would feel if you were the only one of your friends not invited to a party.


When we are managing the sibling rivalry in our home we need to use gentle tactics. We can teach our children to put themselves in another person’s shoes and feel what their siblings are feeling. However, we want to do it a way where we avoid putting our kids on the defensive. Then they have a better chance of empathizing with their siblings. Using the phrase, “I am sure you can imagine” is one of the best and simplest ways to do this.


Source: Faber, A., Mazlish, E. (1999). How To Talk So Kids Will Listen. NY: Harper Collins.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.