Although empathy is universally valued, there is tremendous controversy regarding how to foster it, much of it rooted in a lack of understanding about where it comes from. This course reveals the natural developmental roots of empathy in a way that can easily be put into practice by parents and teachers alike.

Course Description

We all want our children to be kind and considerate, sensitive to the needs of others. But how do we get there? Is it a matter of inculcating values? training social skills? regulating emotions? rewarding right actions? Is it something that is learned or does it need to be developed? Are there things that we should be doing as parents or teachers to get the results we are looking for? Are there pitfalls we should be concerned about in the process? Are there tell-tale signs when children are at risk for failing to develop empathy? The attachment-based developmental approach has much to say to all these questions.

Our elevated concern regarding empathy is understandable. We cannot take it for granted as studies indicate that empathy is on the wane – quite significantly in fact - at least in our children and youth. So the sense of the world becoming a meaner place is well-founded. Parents and teachers are increasingly concerned about the meanness between siblings and between classmates. This loss of empathy can be sensed among adults as well – in the meanness of much of today’s music and entertainment, in the perverse reactions to victims on the internet, in the insensitive rhetoric of some of our leading politicians, and in the increasing triumph of greed over generosity in our society.

This concern regarding empathy, in turn, seems to be driving a new wave of desperate socialization measures. We tend to be full of exhortations to our children to be nice, be kind, say sorry, don’t be mean, don’t be rude. We also have a whole set of programs available at school or at home to cultivate social sensitivity in our children. This would not be of concern if these efforts were simply futile or redundant in nature. But socialization that is developmentally premature, whether effective or futile in getting the desired behaviour, is far from harmless. It can even sabotage the very developmental processes that are meant to render us fully human and humane.

So what can be done? How can we as parents, teachers and helping professionals reverse this tide? How can we help children who feel like being mean to find their caring concern once again? What are the keys to raising children who reach out with compassion to the wounded and will ultimately become the caring and considerate adults our world needs?

We cannot truly address a problem we do not understand. Empathy, it turns out, is not simply an attribute that can be taught, a value that can be inculcated, or a skill that can be trained. Rewarding behaviour associated with empathy will actually corrupt its authenticity, turning medicine into poison. The good news is that the development of empathy is natural and spontaneous, BUT ONLY if the developmental antecedents are in place and if conditions are conducive. This course is about recognizing those antecedents and cultivating the conditions that forward spontaneous development.

Dr. Neufeld traces empathy to its natural roots in attachment, feelings and development. After years of putting the pieces of the empathy puzzle together, he presents his two-factor model for the development of empathy. The model has clear implications for any venue – school, home or treatment – and can be implemented to support development or used remedially where empathy is lacking.

While the situation may be somewhat dire, there is much reason for hope in turning the situation around, both individually and in our communities. Insight is key however, and that is the object of this course.


While highly relevant to any parent, this course is also designed to be applicable to educators and helping professionals. The material is appropriate for 6 CEU (Continuing Education Units).

Formats & Fees

This course is available in the following formats: ONLINE CAMPUS COURSE (Scheduled Online Class only) and LECTURE VIDEO. February 2024 Scheduled Online Class postponed - please stay tuned for new dates. See Course Format Options for format delivery, access, and content details.

Tuition includes a four-month Virtual Campus study pass. This course will be available soon as a Scheduled Online Class (no Self-Paced Study option). See More On Online Campus Courses for further information on campus courses and the Scheduled Online Class format.

Click on the Purchase Access to Lecture Video button on the left-hand side of the course details page to register.


• why today's children are losing their empathy and how this can be reversed
• how a true developmental approach to empathy differs from the typical skill-based, learning-based and moral-education-based approaches
• how the empathy of adults can ironically blind them to the underlying problem where empathy is lacking
• why it matters for children that their caring is actually felt
• the role that inner conflict serves in developing the capacity for empathy
• how to assess for the three problems that underlie the failure of empathy to develop and take remedial action
• how pushing for caring interaction when feelings of caring are missing can do more harm than good
• how to know when a child is developmentally ready for becoming more sensitive to the needs of others
• how caring interaction can be scripted to compensate for a lack of empathy
• what premature socialization is and why it can harm development
• six powerful interventions that address the natural roots of empathy
• the role of prefrontal cortex development in the formation of empathy
• the devastating impact of peer orientation on the development of empathy
• the role of stress in sabotaging the developmental antecedents of empathy and how to reverse this
• the role of cascading care in the development or recovery of empathy
• the role of emotional playgrounds in the development or recovery of empathy
• how empathy is the 'canary in the coal mine' for many other troubling problems in children
• how the master plan of development works in the case of empathy
• how empathy is related to emotional health and development in general

Course Outline

The six-hour course is divided into four sessions of approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes in length, plus a curated Q&A session.

Session One – Neufeld's Two-Factor Model for the Development of Empathy
This session begins with revealing the inherent flaw in current definitions of empathy. When caring is restored as the heart of empathy, existing knowledge from the fields of attachment, development and emotion can be applied. The two-factor model provides insight as to what is happening in our society in general as well as to what is going on with any particular child or youth. The model has profound implications for application in any venue – home, school, program or treatment.

Session Two – The Attachment Factor in Empathy
Empathy's deepest roots are meant to be in the attachment dynamic. In fact, attachment has always been the natural delivery system for care. The deepest and most powerful interventions in the development of empathy involve cultivating the right relationships to optimize caring and empathy.

Session Three – The Feeling Factor in Empathy
Feeling plays a pivotal role in the development of empathy, especially feelings of attachment and caring. The problem with feelings is their fleeting nature, their fragility and their vulnerability. This is especially true of the caring that is meant to mature into empathy. Fortunately a few leading neuroscientists are forging the way into this uncharted territory, with fresh understandings of what feelings actually are and how they work. These insights also have profound implications on how we approach the development of empathy in children.

Session Four – Towards Empathy: practices for intervention and remediation
This session begins with an overview of the main interventions involved in a developmental approach to empathy. Although the interventions are deep and powerful, they are not intrusive, do not require specialized training, and there is no need for the children or youth to be aware. These interventions can be implemented individually or in a family, program, classroom or school. Dr. Neufeld also presents an approach to assessment and remediation when empathy is lacking, helping adults identify which of three root problems are most relevant and in need of being addressed.

© 2024 The Neufeld Institute