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Best Preschool – EMPATHY and SYMPATHY

Updated: May 14, 2023

Adapted from:  Brene’ Brown


Best Preschool Teachers Understand the difference between EMPATHY and SYMPATHY

Best Preschool teachers understand what EMPATHY is and why it is VERY different from SYMPATHY. Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives connection. Theresa Wiseman; a nursing scholar studied different professions where empathy is relevant, like in the best preschool, She came up with the following four qualities of empathy:

  1. PERSPECTIVE TAKING: The ability to take the perspective of another person; or recognize THEIR perspective as THEIR truth. Best Teachers at The Toddler Club!

  2. STAYING OUT OF JUDGEMENT: Something that is not easy when you enjoy it as much as most of us do!

  3. RECOGNIZING EMOTION IN OTHER PEOPLE: The ability to see another persons feelings.

  4. COMMUNICATING: Letting the person know that you see how the other person is feel


EMPATHY IS FEELING WITH PEOPLE best preschool staff teach their students this important lesson daily. Empathy is like a sacred place to a person who is in pain. If someone is in a deep hole and shout out from the bottom, “I’m stuck, it’s dark, I’m overwhelmed”. The empathic person, like a parent or a teacher at the Best Preschool says, “Hey, I know what it’s like down here, and you’re not alone”.


A person who is SYMPATHETIC says, “Ooh, it’s bad down there Um…you want a sandwich?”


EMPATHY IS A CHOICE; it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with a person I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.

Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with, “AT LEAST…” It’s easy to say, and you’re not alone because we do it all the time. Someone has shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put a silver lining around it.


The following are examples of exchanges with a SYMPATHETIC person. You might say:

  1. “I had a miscarriage.” The sympathetic response is, “AT LEAST you know you can get pregnant.”

  2. “My marriage is falling apart.” The sympathetic response is, “AT LEAST you have a marriage.”

  3. “John’s getting kicked out of school.” The sympathetic response is, “AT LEAST Sarah is an A student.”

The thing that we do sometimes – in the face of very difficult conversations – is we try to make things better.

If you child or your student shares something with you that is very difficult, it’s best to respond; as do staff at the best preschool, “I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so glad that you told me.”

Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.

Watch Dr Brené Brown’s video clip below.


To view the original video clip on YouTube; published, 12.10.2013 click here

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