April 2024 – As we focus on empathy this month, it’s important to consider the developmental stages of those gorgeous growing brains in our schools.

By the age 3 or 4, children begin to develop cognitive empathy – an ability to see & understand things from another’s perspective. This is sometimes called “Theory of Mind” (ToM), which is the ability to explain, predict, and interpret behaviour.

Empathy strengthens & fine-tunes as a child grows and matures cognitively and socially. And while preschoolers can share & cooperate & give hugs when they see someone is sad, it is not until the age of 7 or 8 that they can really consider who is to blame for the Friendship Fire® . This level of empathy & ToM is necessary for a child to differentiate between a Friendship Fire and Mean-on-Purpose, as this requires the capacity to consider & attribute intent in conflict. It requires a child to predict how their friend was feeling!

Was their friend joking or being sarcastic? Was their friend possibly feeling jealous & left-out, which is why they said the things they did? Was the Friendship Fire an unresolved issue from before? Was it a total misunderstanding? These complex considerations in understanding others takes time to develop.

The good news is that empathy can be developed! In our Friendology friendship skills curriculum for URSTRONG Schools, we meet students where they are at developmentally. Our curriculum has been very intentionally designed as a progressive learning model, building on skills as students learn and grow.

In Friendology, students role-play scenarios and get better at de-escalating their Friendship Fires®. Through explicit instruction & discussion, they get better at predicting and understanding how their friends feel. Perspective-taking starts to become a default setting, as they learn to put themselves in their friend’s shoes. In fact, our culminating project called, Friendology Shoecase, “ties” it altogether!

Written by: Dana Kerford
Founder & Friendship Expert